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Is Kurdistan Rising?

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend edition, June 20-21, 2015, Yaroslav Trofimov writes of the possible rise of an independent Kurdistan, “The State of The Kurds”. An independent Kurdistan was promised by the WWI Allies in the Treaty of Sevres that ended the Ottoman Empire in 1920. That commitment was dashed by the rise of Turkish Republic under the secularist Kemal Atatürk confirmed in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne denying an independent Kurdistan in what is now Eastern Turkey. Combined a future Kurdistan encompassing eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, northwest Iran and northern Iraq might comprise a landlocked republic of 30 million with significant energy and agricultural resources. The rise of Kurdistan is reflected in these comments in the Trofimov WSJ review article:

Selahattin Demirtas, Chairman of the HDP party in Turkey:

The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage. Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.

Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir, Turkey:

In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS. In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.

Elçi, amplifies a concern that Sherkoh Abbas, leader of the Kurdish National Syria Assembly (KURDNAS) has expressed in several NER interviews an articles with him:

The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways. But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.

As effective as the KRG government and peshmerga have been in pushing back at ISIS forces threatening the capital of Erbil, the real problem is the divisiveness in the political leadership. That is reflected in the comment of  Erbil province’s governor, Nawaf Hadi cited by Trofimov:

For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.

That renewed prospect reflects the constellation of  events in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The fall of the AKP government in the Turkish Election of June 7, 2015

There was  the  stunning  defeat of the 13 year reign of  the Islamist AKP headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the trio of secular, nationalist and upstart Kurdish parties, the CHP, HNP and HDP that might form a minority ruling coalition 45 days from the June 7, 2014 parliamentary elections. These minority parties garnered a plurality of 299 seats in the Ankara Parliament.  That is if these parties can coalesce. If not Islamist figurehead President Erdogan seek new elections if they can’t put together a new ruling government.  A Washington, D.C. forum on what the results of the Turkish  election convened by the Foundation for Defense  of Democracies (FDD) forum presented nuanced views. Watch this C-Span video of the FDD forum.

FDD Senior Counselor John Hannah moderated the discussion with former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and FDD Senior Advisor  former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman and FDD Non-Resident Fellow and former member of Turkish parliament Ayman Erdemir.

John Hannah

June 7 in my opinion was an inspiring performance, a much needed triumph of the spirit of liberal democracy in a Middle East landscape currently inundated with way too much bad news.

For those of us who have watched over the past decade with great dismay the slow drip of Turkey’s democracy being drained away by Erdogan’s creeping Islamism and authoritarianism, we frankly weren’t sure anymore if the Turkish people had this kind of an election in them.

Aykan Erdemir

My take-home message would be that we should not read these elections too much with a progressive, liberal-democratic interpretation. But we should not underemphasize the importance of it either, because ultimately June 7 proved to us that there could be a return from competitive authoritarianism, where an incumbent with huge advantages nevertheless can suffer a relative defeat in the ballot box.

I have always argued that Erdogan’s policies and politics cannot be interpreted within the nation-state borders. Erdogan’s policies right from the start have been transnational; it has always been a Muslim Brotherhood-oriented policy, whether in Syria, Jordan, or Egypt. He is a visionary transnationalist politician.”

Ambassador Edelman

Turkey is a deeply polarized society, and the bad news there is that the AKP is the only party that is competitive across the nation.

Erdogan will not see this vote in any way as inhibiting him in creating an executive presidency. …My suspicion is that Erdogan does not want to see a government formed within the 45-day period set by the constitution and would like to see the country go back to elections. He thinks that if he could apply the ‘keep voting until I get the right answer’ standard, there is a chance he will do better in a second election, get at least a governing majority if not the super-majority.

Dr. Harold Rhode, former Turkish and Islamic Affairs expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense held a more optimistic view cited in a JNS.org article on the Turkish Elections, “noting that he personally knows pro-American and pro-Israel officials “within the senior leadership of all three of the [non-AKP] parties.”

Syrian YPG Fighters capture Tal Abyad  Reuters

Syrian YPG fighters capture Tal-Abyad from ISIS, June 2015. Source: Reuters.

Syrian Kurdish YPG victory at strategic border town of  Tal-Abyad

The second development was the victory by Syrian Kurdish PYG fighters , Christian Assyrian and secular  FSA militias  wresting the strategic border gateway of Tal-Abyad  from  ISIS with support from  US coalition air strikes. This followed the  January 2015 victory in  the siege at the border  city of Kobani. The Syrian PYG, affiliated with the Turkish PKK, a  terrorist group designated by  Turkey, EU and the US, whose leader Abdullah Ocalan is under house arrest in Turkey,  has been assisted  by fighting units of the Iraqi Peshmerga from the adjacent Kurdish Regional Government  (KRG)in northern Iraq.  The third development was the KRG Peshmerga wresting   control  of Kirkuk and its vast  oil field. Kirkuk, as Trofimov noted  is considered  the “Kurdish Jerusalem” .  Not to be outdone by Kurdish compatriots in Syria and Iraq, in mid-May 2015, Iranian Kurdish  Party of Free Life in Kurdistan ( PJAK)  forces in northwestern Iran’s Zagros mountain  fought  Iranian security forces in Mahabad.  Mahabad  was the capital of the short-lived State of Republic  Kurdistan established with Soviet Russian support in  Iran in 1945- 1946.

KRG Delegation meets with resident Obama VO Biden and National Security Council May 2015

Kurdish President Barzani and KRG delegation meet President Obama and VP Biden May 2015.

KRG Meets with President to Free up Arms Deliveries

The KRG quest for independence has been stymied by the Baghdad government of PM Haidar al-Abadi.  The Baghdad  government has not lived up to its agreement reached in December 2014 to provide regular payments to the KRG amounting  to nearly $5.7 billion in exchange for selling 550,000 barrels of oil. The result has been that KRG government  and the 160,000 Peshmerga force have not been paid in months.  More troubling has been the current agreements between the Obama Administration  and  the al-Abadi government for allocation and deliveries of heavy weapons that have not found their way to the highly effective Peshmerga fighting force. This is especially galling given the thousands of Humvees, mobile artillery, anti-tank, main battle tanks and MRAP vehicles abandoned by fleeing Iraqi national security forces in the conquest of Mosul in June 2014 and Ramadi in late May.

A  meeting occurred in Washington in early May 2015 with  KRG President Barzani and senior officials with President Obama, Vice President Biden and members of the National  Security Staff seeking resolution of this impasse.   Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near Policy wrote about this in a May 15, 2015 Al Jazeera, article, “A big win for Kurds at the White House”:

From May 3-8, 2015, Washington D.C. hosted a high-powered delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). KRG President Massoud Barzani was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, National Security Chancellor Masrour Barzani and Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustapha Sayyid Qadr, among other KRG ministers and officials.  [The delegation was originally scheduled for a five minute meeting with President Obama, instead the session lasted an hour].

In particular, the Kurds complained that Washington has allocated too small a proportion of its $1.6bn Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) assistance to Kurdistan.

Slow and indirect delivery of US weapons systems is a connected concern. Washington has chosen to funnel most weapons shipments via the federal Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the only entity entitled by US law to sign end-user certificates (EUCs) for the weapons.

[…]In reaction to these views, the House Armed Services Committee of the US Congress introduced clauses into the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon’s budget, in an attempt to protect the Kurds’ fair share of US weapons.

The draft NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016 was amended by congress to include a clause (Section 1223) that named the Peshmerga as one of a number of security forces collectively entitled to “not less than 25 percent” of the annual $715m of US support.

Most controversially the amendment would allow the KRG “as a country” to “directly receive assistance from the United States” if Baghdad failed to meet the aforementioned condition, a clause that sparked security threats from Shia militia leaders against US trainers in Iraq.

Baghdad protested the language, and US Vice President Joe Biden signaled one day before the Kurdish delegation landed that “all US military assistance in the fight against [ISIL] comes at the request of the Government of Iraq and must be coordinated through the Government of Iraq”.

[…]

Instead of trying to force the White House to do Kurdistan’s bidding through pressure politics, Barzani seems to have adopted a longer-term view in his dealings with the US on defense.

Section 1223 did not give the Kurds a great deal – sharing a quarter of US material collectively with Sunni Arab paramilitary recipients – but it would have soured relations with the Obama administration at a critical time.

Israeli Support for an Independent Kurdistan

One  Middle East nation that  supports an independent Kurdistan  is Israel . As exemplified by comments from  Israeli Prime Minister  Netanyahu, Israel supports the creation of an independent Kurdistan in  Iraq.  There is a long connection between the Kurds and the Jewish nation. There is  an estimated 150,000 Kurdish Jewish  population in Israel that has fostered  cultural –linguistic exchanges with Iraqi Kurdistan.  Iraqi and Iranian kurds smuggled Iraqi Jews to freedom via Iran, during the days of the late Shah, to Israel and the West.  Iranian Kurds continued that effort despite  the Islamic republic facilitating the departure of Iranian Jews  via Turkey to reach  Israel.  From the 1950’s to the mid-70’s Israel provided covert military training and  equipment  to Iraqi Kurds  against the Ba’athist regime of the late Saddam Hussein.  That ended with a treaty between the late Shah of Iran and Hussein orchestrated by Henry Kissinger in 1975.  During the 1980’s Hussein took his revenge on Iraqi kurds during the  Iran-Iraq War  in a series of genocidal revenge campaigns including a massive gas attack that killed thousands decimating Kurdish villages.   Israel currently hosts the huge U.S. War Reserve Stock for use in Middle East conflicts. Perhaps, the Obama Administration might relent on the current agreements with the Baghdad government and permit transfers from the US War Reserve Stock   in Israel of much needed weapons, equipment and munitions to the Peshmerga in Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish militias fighting ISIS.  Israel is less than several hundred miles from Erbil.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of supporters cheering Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP.

Turks Renege on Air Base, ISIS beheads Hundreds in Kobani while Surrounding Baghdad

Yesterday, National  Security Adviser Susan E. Rice went on NBC’s “Meet the Press “and glibly announced that Turkey had given permission for use of the Incirlik air base  by the U.S.-led  coalition assaulting ISIS from the air. She  triumphantly  commented, “That’s a new commitment and one that we very much welcome”.

Today, The Washington Post  reported  a senior Turkish official  denied such a claim, saying that talks were still underway, perhaps awaiting a Pentagon military planning team this week in Ankara. Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Erdogan has made it abundantly clear that he wants his priority demand  opening up a front against the Assad Regime. Erdogan’s negotiations tactics lend credence that he is tacitly supporting ISIS’ destruction of the Kurdish YPG fighters in Kobani.

It looks like the same stall tactics his AKP government used back in 2003, when the U.S. Army First Infantry  Division was prevented from off loading in the Mediterranean  port of Iskenderun to  transit of  Turkey and enter Northern Iraq. What is the expression, dog bites man first time, dog’s fault;  dog bites man second time, man’s fault.  Following in the wake of Ms. Rice’s gaffe on Benghazi on Meet the Press October 15, 2012 and now with this episode, she has lost credibility.

But then the Obama policies in the region have failed. 

Whether it is red lines in Syria, supporting a One Iraq policy in the face of disintegration of the Baghdad central government, and his ISIS strategy with a U.S. air assault but no boots on the ground.

Turkey’s stalling on permission  for  the US-led coalition  air contingents use the Incirlik air base less than 100 kilometers from the Turkish – Syrian border has complicated  air operations.  We have argued  that should have been the first orders of business by the Administration. Now US Navy squadrons on board the USS George H. W. Bush in the Red Sea, USAF  squadrons based temporarily at the Al Udeid air base in Qatar carrier and RAF squadrons based in Cyprus have to fly 1,100 mile round trip sorties  making it virtually impossible to engage in round the clock air operations.

We offer the following   suggestions about what to do with a recalcitrant Erdogan in Turkey,. One suggested by Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is that Turkey be temporarily suspended  from the NATO alliance until it agrees to lend meaningful support to the US-led coalition.  The Administration might impose an embargo on sales of US military equipment and spare parts to Turkey, akin to what was done following Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974, lifted in 1978. The State Department might delist the Turkish Workers Party (PKK) from its designated terrorist list. There is the precedent of the delisting of the Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq  (MEK). That act outraged the Iranian Islamic regime. A similar action by the U.S. State Department might cause a diplomatic furor between Washington and Ankara further emboldening Kurdish protests in Turkey and elsewhere.

We have grisly reports from The Daily Mail, today, that hundreds of trapped Kurds in Kobani have been beheaded by ISIS jihadists to the cries of “allahu Akbar”. Rumor has it that a contingent of 200 Kurdish fighters with more modern weapons may be on their way to Kobani. But that may be too little too late to save  the encircled YPG fighters in Kobani.

 Meanwhile a  large column of 10,000 ISIS troops ,equipped with stolen US tanks, artillery and Humvees,  have virtually taken all of Anbar province encircling  Baghdad and threatening  the International airport. The UN reported today that more than 30,000 families, 180,000 persons  fled after the town of Hit was taken.

We had this exchange with a veteran U.S. security contractor in Baghdad.

Gordon:  Thank you for your comment on my Iconoclast post.  Suffice to say all of us pray for the safety of you and all your American colleagues in Iraq. The flight of the Iraqi forces before Mosul in June empowered ISIS with billions in US supplied arms, weapons, tanks and Humvees. ISIS military commanders are former Saddam Ba’athist commanders and quite capable in conducting operations against a corrupt Iraqi national army. ISIS has a friend in Turkey’s Erdogan, allied with the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Despite the change in government and removal of former Premier Al-Maliki, Iraq remains a satrap of Iran for all intents and purposes. ISIS’ Jihad Qur’anic imperative, to borrow a phrase of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war” to the cry of “allahu Akbar”.  I trust that you and your colleagues can make it out to Kuwait and home before the Baghdad airport falls into ISIS hands.

Tim:  I agree with what you say. I have been able to see all this happen first hand. I have been over here for a total of five years. I believe that some plan has been made for our evacuation but nothing has been shared. We will see.

Yesterday,  Lisa Benson asked  us to join her, Dr. Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS) and the Hon. Karwan Zebari,the Kurdish Regional Government Ambassador in Washington.  Benson, has drawn  attention to the barbaric onslaught of ISIS against the YPG fighters in Kobani, and  the efforts of the KRG Peshmerga forces in Iraq. Benson has also reached out to activists to solicit relief assistance to Kurds, Yazidis and Christians in the KRG. She has told graphically of the escape of Yazidi women and girls from Raqaa who were sold into sex slavery by their ISIS captors and the price they had paid to reach safety and freedom in the KRG. Benson has mounted several twitter rally campaigns with hashtags #ArmPeshmerga and #SaveKobani.

In the discussion on this latest Lisa Benson Radio Show broadcast, we addressed revelations by Senior Iranian officials in contact with the Administration. They suggested  that Israel will be threatened by ISIS if the Assad regime is attacked.  Dr. Abbas, confirmed Iran’s double game strategy facilitating the rampage that emboldened ISIS’ conquest of large swaths of Syria and Iraq virtually destroying the map of the Levant. A map that began with the  British-French Sykes Picot secret agreement of 1916 that led to the French and British Mandates of the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference in 1920. This was followed by  the creation of the Kemalist Republic of Turkey in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne.

The big losers  in the Versailles conference in 1919 were the Kurds. They were promised a nation in their ancient homeland in what became modern Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Ambassador Zebari  articulated  the failure of the so-called One Iraq policy propounded by the US Administration  as the basis for the strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State.  ISIS has become enormously wealthy from looting banks, extortion, and taxation of conquered people and sales of smuggled oil from fields in both Syria and Iraq.  The flood of ISIS fighters from 70 countries have travelled the jihadist highway allowed  by the Islamist regime of President Erdogan’s AKP government in Ankara.  Dozens have been  killed in  riots in Turkey’s predominately  Kurdish  southeast.

Benson fielded a call from a Kurdish American organizer of a hunger strike in support of Kurds in Kobani that will be launched across from the White House this Friday.  Another call, asked the probing question of Dr. Abbas and Ambassador Zebari, “ What could be done to arouse the Administration to alleviate this looming disaster?”  Ambassador Zebari suggested that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have recognized the failure of the One Iraq policy and the necessity of supporting the Kurds.

Both Dr. Abbas raised the question of why Jewish advocacy groups in the US don’t support this, as they have been noticeably silent?   Benson contrasted the questionable appropriation  of more than $500 million by Congress in response to the President’s request to provide training and arms for  so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces, most of who appear to Islamist. The consensus of the discussions on Sunday’s program was the One Iraq strategy has failed and that the Kurds deserve a nation-state of their own.  Dr. Abbas and Ambassador Zebari  opposed  Secretary of State Kerry continued espousal of the failed One Iraq policy.

Dr. Abbas drew attention to  the US donation of  $212 million announced at the Cairo  Donor conference organized by Norway for reconstruction in Gaza. Over $2.7 billion was raised in pledges from EU and Middle East Muslim nations. There was nary a word about dismantling and verifying Hamas’s terror command and tunnels. Kerry also pushed for renewal of Palestinian – Israeli peace discussions. All while PA President Abbas pushes his campaign for a UN Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian State claiming he has 7 of 9 votes in favor.

Ambassador Zebari pointed out that  Israel and the Kurds are objects of scorn and hate by the Muslim Brotherhood, Shia and Sunni, Salafist and Wahhabist Jihadists  in the Middle East.

This should, in his opinion, arouse Americans  during the upcoming Mid-Term November elections to vote for Congressional candidates who support Kurdish nationalism and provide the arms  to fight against ISIS   Meanwhile, we had reports  from Jerusalem today that Israeli police closed down Palestinian rioters  at the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. These rioters were  seeking to rain havoc with rocks and Molotov cocktails on Jews at the Kotel below celebrating the Festival of Tabernacles, Sukkoth.

The UN considered such Israeli actions, “provocative”.

RELATED ARTICLE: US “ally” Turkey bombs Kurds opposed to the Islamic State

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Kobani on the brink of falling — Could Baghdad Airport be next?

Yesterday, we posted commentary on Jonathan Schanzer‘s, Politico Magazine piece, “Time to kick Turkey Out of NATO?”  We noted what was behind Erdogan’s refusal to commit forces to lift the ISIS siege of the beleaguered Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani.  We concluded:

Erdogan clearly wants the Syrian Kurds decimated so that they will not have virtual autonomy in the country’s northeast.

We note Schanzer’s conclusion in his Politico article:

The crisis in Kobani once again brings the challenge of Turkey into sharp relief. Despite the best efforts of Washington and other coalition members to bring Turkey along, it now appears clear: Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO. Nor is it a partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Marie Herf, one of the two Department of State spokespersons, held forth at yesterday’s Daily Press Briefing packed with US and foreign journalists. She spoke about the meetings in Ankara with US Coalition military chief Gen. James Allen and Amb. Brett McGurk to be followed by a Pentagon military planning team  next week to discuss what assistance the Turkish NATO ‘ally’ might render in the fight against ISIS. The impression left, given questions by journalists at the Daily Press Briefing, is that  Turkey will do nothing  to aid the Syrian Kurds in Kobani, while the US  conducts periodic air assaults that have yet to blunt the ISIS forces surrounding  the city.  Her  colleague, Jen Psaki was engaged in a HuffPost cocktail hour discussion with Washington journalists about the dilemma of the stubborn, but apparently valiant Kurdish PYG defense of the shrinking perimeter inside Kobani against ISIS. The YPG is affiliated with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) that the Turks, EU and US have designated as terrorists. Turkish President Erdogan considers the PKK and hence the YPG to be ‘worse than ISIS’.

Violent protests by Kurds have erupted in the predominately Kurdish southeastern provinces of Turkey and in major cities. These  have taken the lives of over 36 protesters. The Daily Beast reported:

For three nights now Kurdish protestors, riot police and Turkish ultranationalists have battled each other in dozens of towns across the southeast as well as in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. More than 30 have died so far in the violence and more than 1000 people have been arrested, according to Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala. And for the first time in years soldiers are on the streets of the Kurdish towns of Diyarbakır, Mardin, Van and Batman, where curfews have been imposed.

The lockdowns have not stopped the protests. Armed with Molotov cocktails, furious Kurds have been firebombing schools, government buildings and political party offices.

In Diyarbakır, a PKK stronghold, protestors defied orders to remain indoors. “Some people stay at home and just make noise in protest,” a resident reported via email. “But others are going out. The city is crazy. Helicopters are hovering overhead the whole time. There are no cars or taxis but there are tanks.” Then she added: “There is a beautiful moon and the smoke of tear gas.”

Turkish forces were caught by a Voice of America cameraman firing on Syrian Kurdish protesters from the border town of Qamishli. Watch here:

My European source on Turkey commented that Erdogan’s suppression of Kurds in Turkey reflects his fear about the growing importance of Kurdish irredentism. He pointed out in our conversation  that Kurds now account for 25 percent of Turkey’s population and are likely to increase in influence during Erdogan’s term as President.  Erdogan has reached out to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an Island in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul, requesting him to issue a letter to his followers to remain calm.  That clearly didn’t resonate with angry Kurds in Turkey. Kurdish protests and even street battles with ISIS supporters have occurred in Europe. Rallies in protest of Turkey’s inaction on Kobani have occurred in Canada and in Washington.

ISIS is reported to control half of Kobani, despite the limited air assault by the US-led coalition.  According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rghts, the YPG was taking a toll on ISIS attackers in fierce urban street fighting. Kurdish resistance leaders inside Kobani were tweeting that they were running out of ammunition.  The National Posreported this comment from a Turkish Kurdish member of the Ankara Parliament:

“Islamists open automatic fire while Kurds are careful to fire single shots,” Faysal Sariyildiz, a Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey’s parliament who’s been monitoring the battle, said in an interview. “They are careful with ammunition since they don’t have logistics supplies like Islamic State.”

The fear of possible genocide by ISIS jihadists against Kurds trapped in Kobani was expressed by UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a veteran Swedish-Italian diplomat.  Mistura according to the BBC “urged Turkey to allow volunteers to cross into Syria to defend Kobani, and warned that as many as 700 people, mainly elderly civilians, were still trapped in the town.  He gave this chilling comment about a possible massacre in Kobani  at a news conference, ‘You remember Srebrenica,’ Staffan de Mistura said, referring to the Bosnian town where Serb forces slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995. ‘We never forgot and we probably never forgave ourselves for that.’

Without ammunition the Kurds have their backs to wall, Kobani is doomed to fall.  Would the Peshmerga in Iraq supply that?  Are their stocks available from the US National Security stockpile in Haifa, Israel? Israel, we are told has sold off its stocks of captured Soviet era weapons and ammunition. Although it could manufacture such  ammunition, it is unlikely to do so.

The USAF has  probably  has available far more effective Special Operations aircraft with which to conduct a aerial campaign to stave off the ISIS forces ringing Kobani. The USAF Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Air Field in North West Florida has squadrons of the heavily armed  Lockheed C-130A Spectre gunships  and the Pilatus U-28 intelligence aircraft. Both have been used to great effect in Afghanistan. Watch this video of a C-30 Spectre Gunship in action. Then we have a number of  Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt Warthog National Guard units that are very effective tank killers. Watch this video of an A-10 Warthog in action. The Spectres are capable of staying over the target area in support of fighting in urban areas with massive firepower . They can take out troops, vehicles like the armored Humvees and tanks stolen from the fleeing Iraq national forces.  They are more effective than the F-18A Hornets, F-16s and the Eurofiighter Tornados and drones currently utilized by the US-led coalition.  Clearly there is no evidence that this Administration plans to use those USAF Special Operations aircraft.

US Embassy Helicopter Rescue Fall of Saigon April 1975

US Embassy Helicopter Rescue Fall of Saigon April 1975

Besides, we have an even more pressing problem, defense of a 300 man US Marine contingent at the Baghdad International Airport now within range of stolen US artillery captured by ISIS. ISIS has conquered virtually all of Anbar Province. Provincial leaders have said that only US combat troops can prevent a complete takeover by ISIS. That puts the ISIS blitzkrieg on Baghdad’s doorstep. Should the runways and control tower at Baghdad airport  be shelled or mortared the only way that those Marines might be evacuated is by  helicopters and not the Apache attack ones we have dispatched. But then ISIS also has MANPADS capable of shooting down both civilian and military aircrafts and those Apaches.  Baghdad airport’s possible fall to ISIS forces raises the question of how the thousands of American contractors, diplomatic staff, and US military advisors will get out to safety from Baghdad’s Green Zone?  That daunting prospect conjures up something eerily familiar to those of us who are Vietnam era vets. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 with images of American Huey helicopters plucking off clamoring US diplomats and Vietnamese from the roof of the US Embassy.

Kobani’s likely fall to ISIS in the face of Turkish inaction despite US limited air attacks will be a momentary disaster awaiting the debacle of what might occur at Baghdad International Airport.

Besides, we have an even more pressing problem, defense of a 300 man US Marine contingent at the Baghdad International Airport now within range of stolen US artillery captured by ISIS.  Should the runways and control tower be shelled or mortared the only way that those Marines might be evacuated is by Apache helicopters we have dispatched. But then ISIS also has MANPADS capable of shooting down both civilian and military aircrafts and those Apaches.  Baghdad airport’s possible fall to ISIS forces raises the question of how the thousands of American contractors, diplomatic staff, and US military advisors will get out to safety from Baghdad’s Green Zone? That daunting prospect conjures up something eerily familiar to those of us who are Vietnam era vets. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 with images of American Huey helicopters plucking off clamoring US diplomats and Vietnamese from the roof of the US Embassy.

Kobani’s likely fall to ISIS in the face of Turkish inaction despite US limited air attacks will be a momentary disaster awaiting the debacle of what might occur at Baghdad  International Airport.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photo is of smoke from a U.S. coalition air strike in Kobani as seen from Suruc, Turkey taken on 10-10-2014. Source: AP/Leftaris, Pitarakis.

Should Turkey be Forced to Leave NATO?

Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has written compellingly in a Politico Magazine article suggesting that  NATO should consider expelling Turkey, “Time to kick Turkey Out of NATO?” Schanzer notes:

Membership in NATO still holds significance. The alliance was designed to be an elite group of countries that stood for Western values. The NATO charter, set forth in 1949, holds that member states will protect one and all from attack at the hands of ideological foes. The Turkish Republic, founded and governed as an avowedly secular state, agreed to these terms in 1952, three years after NATO’s founding.

Of course, NATO was initially engineered to fight communism. But over the years, the threats to the international system have changed. The latest challenge is a jihadist ideology that fuels the Islamic State, but also al Qaeda and other terror groups and their state sponsors.

Yet, it has become clear that Turkey, once a bulwark of secularism in the Muslim world, is now ambivalent at best and complicit at worst, about fighting these forces. The fact that the AKP is a splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood provides a good indication of its leanings. More troublingly, it is a champion of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and allows several of its senior figures to operate out of Turkey. It has failed consistently to uphold international standards on fighting terrorism finance, including the designation of al Qaeda figures on its own soil. It has been reluctant to even acknowledge that groups like the Nusra Front—which has pledged fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri—are terrorist organizations. Its dangerously lax border policies have contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. And it has helped Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world; evade sanctions at the height of the international community’s efforts to hinder its illicit nuclear program.

 Schanzer’s  question was spurred on by Turkey’s inaction in the face of the ISIS siege and likely conquest of the Kurdish enclave of Kobani just across the border in Syria. allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, doesn’t want to move against the ISIS jihadists rampaging in Syria and Iraq.  Until recently he tacitly supported their cause fighting to eject the Assad government in Syria and replacing it with a self-proclaimed Caliphate.  This would fill his oil pipelines with smuggled product from captured Syrian and Iraqi oil fields to sell at a good profit. He facilitated the so-called “jihadist highway” filtering foreign Salafist jihadist recruits for ISIS and the Al Qaeda al Nusrah Front opposition to Assad. But Erdogan has to play it cool, as he has a lively trade exchanging gold for much needed gas from neighboring Iran, a Shiite ally of the Assad regime to foster Turkey’s economic growth. The gold received by Iran allowed the Islamic Republic to evade US and international sanctions to finance its nuclear development program. We learned this week that he exchanged 180 jihadists, sequestered in Turkey, on September 20th for release of 49 Turkish diplomats and their families held captive for 101 days following the fall of  Mosul in June  2014.

Those of us old enough to have lived through the so-called Korean Conflict of 1950-53, can recall the tough Turkish military contingents part of the multilateral UN force that endeavored to stave off the North Korean and Chinese PLA hordes in what was euphemistically called, “a police action”.  That was then. Now, Turkey’s U.S. supplied F-16 aircraft are not flying from NATO airbases in his  country. He has yet to permit USAF operations out of those airbases despite authorizing legislation passed by the Turkish parliament.  US supplied Turkish Army tanks are positioned silently on the Turkish Syrian border. All while the world’s media  coveys images of the courageous YPG fighters, women among them, lightly armed, desperately fighting against all odds with ISIS troops equipped with stolen US mortars, tanks and artillery. Most of Kobani’s population, over 180,000, has fled to refugee sanctuary in Turkey.

 The Erdogan regime’s decision not to lift the Kobani siege has roiled Turkey’s Kurdish population. President Erdogan was allegedly concerned about Kurdish irredentism in Syria and Turkey.  He got confirmation of  that with the rising of Kurds throughout the Southeastern region of  his country resulting in more than two dozen dead and counting.  Kurds in Europe have also erupted in protest and fought pitched battles with ISIS supporters in the streets of Hamburg.

These developments have given rise to questions  from  fellow NATO  and US-led Sunni coalition members over  Erdogan’s  ‘conditions’ to enter the fray to provide ‘boots on the ground ‘and permit air assaults from NATO bases in Turkey.

Let’s examine some plausible reasons why Erdogan may not wish to unleash  his army in the US-led coalition conflict with ISIS.  He has publicly stated that his objective is to bring down the Assad government. Less well known is the current round of Turkish negotiations with Cyprus over ‘unification’ of the Republic of Cyprus and the rump Turkish Northern Cypriot ‘Republic’. That was  carved out by a Turkish invasion in 1974. An opportunistic invasion contrived by the secular Turkish government at the time to counter the Greek military coup of the Archbishop Makarios government of Cyprus.   Turkey is pressing for a lucrative share of the gas development offshore Cyprus and transmission to EU markets via his network of pipelines.

Until recently the US was willing to sacrifice the Kurds in Kobani and only resorted to conducting  limited bombing to slow down the inevitable advance of ISIS fighters bent on exterminating remaining YPG fighters and the remnant of the town’s  population. Erdogan may be the equivalent of Stalin who during the August 1944 Polish Resistance Uprising ordered the Red Army to sit on the east bank of the Vistula River watching the German Army decimate the valiant Poles and turn Warsaw to rubble.  Stalin barred USAAF air drops from a base at Poltava in the Western Ukraine, forcing allied air drops to originate in England, many of which fell in the hands of waiting German forces.  Stalin also wanted to ensure that a Communist regime spawned in liberated Lublin would rule post war Poland. Erdogan clearly wants the Syrian Kurds decimated so that they will not have virtual autonomy in the country’s Northeast.

We note Schanzer’s conclusion in his Politico article:

The crisis in Kobani once again brings the challenge of Turkey into sharp relief. Despite the best efforts of Washington and other coalition members to bring Turkey along, it now appears clear: Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO. Nor is it a partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Turkey Exchanges Jihadists with ISIS for Release of Diplomats

The veil was lifted on how Turkish President Recep Erdogan was able to get 49 Turkish diplomats captured in Mosul when ISIS conquered Iraq’s second largest city in June. He exchanged more than 180 Jihadists, including two British citizens to obtain the release of Turkish diplomats and their families.  Those jihadists had been caught on the so-called  Turkish Jihadist highway that Erdogan had provided emboldening the foreign fighter contingents for Al Qaeda affiliate  al Nusra and ISIS.

Yesterday, I listened with interest to an NPR  interview with a Syrian ‘guide’ who had  run a profitable business infiltrating those foreign jihadists into Syria to join up with the Al  Nusra and ISIS, until Erdogan’s security forces  were commanded to shut it down. Perhaps, the ability of ISIS to smuggle oil from captured fields in Syria may also have played a role in providing baksheesh to keep the jihadist highway in operation bringing in both recruits and the  cash to pay them.

turkish tanks

Turkish Tanks at Syrian Border. Source IBTimes.

Our friends at Erdogan Failure sent us this Hurriyet Daily report  excerpted from a Times of London  article, on the exchange, “180 jihadists traded by Turkey for hostages: report”:

Some 180 jihadists, including two British citizens, were handed over to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the deal to secure the release of the hostages abducted from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, The Times has reported.

A total of 49 Turkish Embassy staff were held hostage by ISIL for 101 days before being released on Sept. 20.

The Times reported that 18-year-old Shabazz Suleman and 26-year-old Hisham Folkard are thought to be among the 180 jihadists returned in exchange, and are being investigated by British counter-terrorism officers.

The report said it has gained access to the list of the swapped jihadists, which also includes three French citizens, two Swedish citizens, two Macedonians, one Swiss and one Belgian.

Turkey contacted tribes in the region and other armed groups to achieve the deal, it added.

The world’s media provided a rostrum for President Erdogan, an elected Islamist autocrat,  to exercise ultimate chutzpah at the border town of Suruc teeming with 180,000 Kurdish and other Syrian refugees.  Reported by the UK The Independent, Erdogan predicted the imminent fall of Kobani to ISIS. Further, that he would only put troops on the ground, if he could secure a corridor inside Syria fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. All while US supplied tanks of the Turkish army, the largest land force member of NATO,  were poised on the border capable of firing rounds at US tanks  and mobile artillery captured by  ISIS  battering the lightly armed Kurdish YPG forces.

This is eerily akin to  Stalin’s orders for Russian forces in August of 1944 to remain on the east bank of the Vistula River when the Polish Resistance  Uprising  in Warsaw against Nazi forces, only to be decimated virtually destroying what remained of the city.  As we know from the history of that valiant episode by  Polish resistance, allied air drops to supply Polish contingents landed in the possession of  German forces.  Moreover, Stalin denied use  by  US  air force units  based in Poltava in the western Ukraine to make those  air drops.  Consider the limited  air attacks by the US-led coalition air forces on ISIS in the outer precincts of Kobani to be the contemporary equivalent.

 In Erdogan’s case, his appearance at the Syrian border backfired, as Kurds rose up in anger inside Turkey and throughout emigre communities in Europe. Many in the West were troubled by Erdogan’s stance.  Interviews with Former Pentagon and CIA chef under Obama, Leon Panetta, based on his new book, Worthy Fights,  suggested ineffective leadership by  President Obama .Obama who took  advice from what a Wall Street Journal called the “Mettenich Munchkins” in the West Wing in an editorial,” Who  Really Lost Iraq?”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photos is of the freed Turkish hostages being welcomed at the airport in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Sept. 20, 2014. AP Photo

U.S. Coalition Air Assault on ISIS Besieged town of Kobani, Syria

On Thursday, we posted a question on the Iconoclast blog of the NER, “Is the U.S. Going to save Syrian Kurds and Others in Besieged Kobani?”  AP reported  today of US coalition air attacks on Kobani and other location in ISIS occupied Syria and Iraq, “US-led planes strike fighters attacking Syria town”:

The Islamic State group’s assault on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has sent more than 100,000 refugees streaming across the border into Turkey in recent days as Kurdish forces from Iraq and Turkey have raced to the front lines to defend the town.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, destroying two tanks. He said the jihadi fighters later shelled the town, wounding a number of civilians.

[…]

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the coalition’s strikes near Kobani came amid heavy fighting between the Islamic State group and members of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPK.

The Britain-based group, which relies on activists inside Syria, had no immediate word on casualties from Saturday’s strikes.

Kurdish fighter Majid Goran told the Associated Press by telephone from Kobani that two bombs were dropped over the nearby village of Ali Shar, at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), but that the positions they struck were empty.

Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported Saturday that the sound of heavy fighting could be heard from the Turkish border village of Karaca. The agency said Kurdish forces retook some positions they had lost to the Islamic militants a few days ago. It did not cite a source for the report.

Dozens of people wounded in the fighting arrived in Turkey for treatment on Saturday, it said.

Another Kurdish fighter, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, said the Turkish military on Saturday night retaliated after stray shells landed on Turkish territory, firing in the Ali Shar region. He said the Turkish action left Kurdish fighters in the middle of the crossfire.

He said that on Friday, the Islamic militants were attacking the Kobani area from the east with tanks and artillery, advancing on Ali Shar and Haja. He said some 20 people were killed, including Kurdish fighters and civilians, while another 50 people were wounded.

The fighting around Kobani sparked one of the largest single outflows of refugees since Syria’s conflict began more than three years ago. The Syrian Kurdish forces have long been one of the most effective fighting units battling the Islamic State, but the tide has turned in recent weeks as the Islamic militants have attacked with heavy weapons likely looted from neighboring Iraq.

kurds fleeing war in syria

Turkish and Syrian Kurds break down fence at Border near Suruc, Turkey, 9-26-14. Source: AP Burhan Ozbilici.

This initial air attack at Kobani while welcome, needs more follow up action by the US Central Command and coalition partners.  They need to establish a 24/7 no fly zone over the northeastern province of Hasaka, the homeland of Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava. Turkish President Erdogan  returning from his UN General Assembly trip in comments in Ankara suggested to President Obama and Vice President Obama  establishment of a no-fly zone to protect against Assad regime air attacks on rebel forces and possible use against ISIS. However, he did not indicate what zone should be established.

The U.S. has to press the Turks to let Kurdish fighters create a humanitarian corridor. Most importantly, the Turks have to be pressed to permit USAF to fly round the clock missions out of Incirlik air base in eastern Turkey, which lies less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Syrian border.  Turkey’s parliament passed legislation barring entry into adjacent Northern Iraq  of  U.S. Coalition forces during the opening stages of  Iraq War in 2003, necessitating the re-deployment of the U.S. 4th  Armored Division.

Beside the no-fly Zone over northeastern Syria, Kurdish fighters need training and heavy weapons, especially counter battery, anti-tank weapons to attack ISIS mortars, artillery and tanks. Many of these weapons were captured by ISIS from fleeing Iraqi troops in Northern Iraq and looted from Assad regime arsenals. More pressure has to be exerted on the Administration and Western partners, especially France and the UK, to provide air cover for the Kurdish population in Syria along with training and equipment for their fighters in Syria.  Currently, France restricts its air sorties to Iraq only.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor at a U.S. CENTCOM air base taxiing for a Syrian air Mission 9-23-14. Source AP.