Erdogan offers to help eject Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from Aleppo
Turkish jets launched a massive assault on People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces in northern Syria on Oct. 20 to prevent the Syrian Kurdish group from taking the strategic town of al-Bab in northwestern Syria.
If the YPG, which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), seizes al-Bab, there would be a corridor connecting Syrian Kurdish regions east and west of the Euphrates River — something Turkey has vowed not to let happen.
Amberin Zaman reported that “the strikes mark the second time Turkey has attacked the YPG from the air, raising interesting questions about Ankara’s relations with Russia and with the Syrian regime. YPG sources who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said Turkey is unlikely to have initiated the strikes without informing Russia, whose planes effectively control the skies over northwestern Syria. Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, but Ankara’s fears of the emergence of a PKK-run Kurdish entity along its borders appear to have surpassed its desire to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. This is one of the main reasons Turkey was so keen to patch up ties with Russia, and some claim with Damascus, after downing a Russian jet over the Syrian border last year.”
Zaman added that Russia will not, however, allow Turkish-backed rebel forces to seize al-Bab, as this could threaten the Syrian government’s efforts to retake Aleppo.
“YPG sources speculate that Moscow gave the green light for Turkish airstrikes to prevent their forces from moving on to al-Bab. In exchange, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan assured Russian President Vladimir Putin in an Oct. 19 telephone conversation that he would help eject Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the jihadist group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, from Aleppo. Whether he will, or even can, remains unclear,” Zaman wrote.
The removal of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham forces from Aleppo is an interest shared by both Russia and the United States, and it’s a key element of the UN proposal for Aleppo. This column reported Oct. 9 that UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura had said that he would be willing to personally escort the 1,000 Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters out of Aleppo, as they were holding the besieged city hostage. For some reason, the al-Qaeda-linked group’s role is left out of many op-eds and Western press accounts of the battle for Aleppo. In addition to the withdrawal of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters, the UN Aleppo proposal seeks a cessation of the bombing by Syrian and Russian forces, an end to shelling of western Aleppo by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and other armed groups, unimpeded humanitarian access to the city and respect for existing independent local administration.
Erdogan’s red lines in Mosul
Although Turkish troops have so far stayed out of the battle for Mosul, Erdogan has not backed off on Turkey’s claims and red lines for Iraq’s second-largest city.
Metin Gurcan reported that “since the beginning of the Mosul operation, no one has asked to use any Turkish base for the air attacks, no Turkish air elements have been involved and there has been no artillery fire from Bashiqa. It is clear that Ankara is considerably annoyed by not even taking part in the air operations against Mosul.”
Fehim Tastekin added, “Turkey has been saying its ground forces have been invited to Iraq by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkmens. But no such request came from either camp. KRG leader Massoud Barzani knows that to consolidate his control of the disputed areas, he needs Baghdad's partnership. That is why he is saying, probably much to Ankara’s disappointment, ‘There must be a way to reconcile Ankara and Baghdad about the presence of Turkish soldiers. We don’t think a force should participate in the operation without Baghdad's consent.’ He is simply not playing Ankara’s game. In return for his crucial contribution to the operation, Barzani wants to control the area east of the Tigris River that divides the city and to make his de facto rule of Kirkuk a permanent one.”
“What Ankara wants most,” Gurcan reported, “is active participation of the Ninevah Guards, which comprise about 3,000 Sunni Arab militias, Turkmens and Kurds under the leadership of Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Ninevah province. Ankara, by having the Ninevah Guards, which it sees as a balancing force of the Mosul operation in the offensive from the north, wants Baghdad and Tehran to recognize Turkey’s role.”
Erdogan has conveyed to the United States that his country expects no role in the operation by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), either as part of some larger peshmerga force or via the Yazidi Sinjar Resistance Units, which is linked to the PKK.
Gurcan explained, “The political knot of the operation is what kind of governance there will be in Mosul after the operation. Every power in the region has a different goal: Barzani's KRG wants to control north of Mosul; the PKK dreams of a canton at Sinjar; Nujaifi wants to recover his lost leadership of Mosul; and Shiite Arabs see control of Mosul as part of their regional power struggle that will enable them to dominate the city with US support. Ankara’s red lines are summarized as: no mass refugee wave, no entry of Shiite militias into Mosul’s center or oppression of the people, and not allowing the PKK to sneak in under the banner of the Sinjar Resistance Units.”
Laura Rozen reported that the United States expects as many as a million people to be displaced as a result of the fighting in Mosul.
“Preparations have been underway since February for the Mosul campaign, and the United Nations said it had shelters prepared to house 60,000 people, while construction of additional sites to accommodate up to 250,000 people is taking place. But with Iraq already housing 3.3 million internally displaced people before the Mosul operation began, the UN had received only approximately 58% of its 2016 Iraq funding request of $861 million,” Rozen wrote.
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