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UAE steps up anti-Turkey efforts in Syria

The United Arab Emirates engages Turkey in a war of words and deeds over Ankara's fight with Kurds in Syria.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrate the first anniversary of Raqqa province liberation from ISIS, in Raqqa, Syria Ocotber 27, 2018. REUTERS/Aboud Hamam - RC1BDC1D4780
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On Jan. 30, the United Arab Emirates' minister of state for foreign affairs condemned Turkey’s plan to establish a buffer zone in northeastern Syria and said Ankara’s efforts to geographically isolate the Syrian Kurds worried both the UAE and the United States. Anwar Gargash justified his criticisms of Turkish conduct in Syria by challenging Ankara’s conflation of Kurdish nationalism with terrorism and emphasizing the constructive role that Kurdish militias played in defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. 

Gargash’s expressions of solidarity with Kurdish nationalist forces in Syria reflect the UAE’s desire to contain Turkish influence in Syria and insert itself as a major stakeholder in the resolution of the Syrian conflict. The UAE’s critical attitude towards Turkish belligerence in northeastern Syria is the product of a broader rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Ankara, which was triggered by Turkey’s alignment with Qatar, Ankara’s close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and competing interests in the Horn of Africa. Tensions over these issues steadily intensified after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the UAE of supporting the 2016 coup against his government, but Syria was initially a secondary flashpoint for confrontation between Turkey and the UAE.

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