Turkish Parliament's Permit To Intervene in Syria Misguided

The Turkish parliament recently issued a decision renewing permission for Turkish troops to intervene militarily in Syria, but they should be addressing the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and jihadist groups.

al-monitor Members of the Turkish parliament vote during a debate to discuss a government proposal to extend by a year a mandate authorizing the sending of troops into Syria if needed, in Ankara, Oct. 3, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

al-qaeda, turkish parliament, turkey, syrian national council, syria, salafists, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state of iraq and syria (isis), free syrian army

Oct 4, 2013

The Turkish government is adamant about upholding its bankrupt Syria policy. The new parliamentary decision to renew the authority of the government to send troops abroad is based on ingrained convictions. The authorization is updated according to the existence of chemical weapons, but it ignores al-Qaeda. It is amazing that a military operation can be based on such loose information.

The decision says "1,400 Syrian citizens lost their lives during the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack,” and that this was confirmed by the UN report. Should there not be more prudent language when the Adana public prosecutor just indicted people linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Islam for trying to procure chemicals to produce sarin gas in Turkey? That indictment is not a newspaper report, but an official state document. Also, the number of 1,400 victims is subject to wild variations: France says 281 were killed, Britain 350, Doctors Without Borders 355, Human Rights Observatory 502, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) 1,300, the United States 1,429 and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) 1,729. So, we based our authority to send troops to Syria on data that US President Barack Obama could not sell to Congress. 

While the FSA of "friends" evaporates

Here, I do not want to discuss the parliamentary decision, but rather the understated al-Qaeda threat. Some insulted me when I recently wrote about Turkey becoming Pakistan and al-Qaeda’s increasing strength. Some said I was exaggerating, and accused me of making a case for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But suddenly our government, which used to allow freedom of movement across our borders to violent militants, is denouncing them because we are exposed as "the country that supports al-Qaeda."

Until yesterday, they were all "freedom fighters," whether they were al-Qaeda militants, jihadists, moderates and so on. Nobody asked for an explanation for hundreds of fighters transported by ship from Libya and Yemen to our Mersin port and then transferred to Syria through our official crossings. We pretended to make a distinction between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and gave our support to Jabhat al-Nusra.

You should have a look at the lineup on the ground: In December 2012, to arm and strengthen the moderates, an FSA High Military Council was set up under the command of Salim Idris. But the inability to provide sufficient weaponry through Idris and then the shelving of the Western intervention idea after the US-Russia accord led to bitter disappointment. Seeing intervention was not likely; groups on the ground created new coalitions.

On Sept. 24, 13 opposition organizations declared they do not recognize the SNC and invited all the groups on the ground to unite under an Islamic structure based on Sharia. That greatly concerned Turkey, because our close allies within the FSA — such as the Tawhid Brigade, the moderate Islamic Shuur el-Sham and Islam Brigades — ended up allying with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is under al-Qaeda. That means Turkey’s allies have forgotten their reservations about al-Qaeda. The strength of these 13 groups, most of which are based in the north, constitutes nearly half of the total 100,000 opposition fighters.

Qatar out, Saudi in

On the southern front, more than 50 groups, which mostly use the FSA label, set up an Islamic army led by Salafist Liwa al-Islam. Liwa al-Islam is financed by Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan and led by Zahran, the son of the Saudi-based Sheikh Muhammed Alloush, who was supposed to challenge the power of al-Qaeda. So in the south, after Qatar’s withdrawal from the scene, there is a Saudi-guided Salafist alliance, and in the north there is an al-Qaeda alliance that generates its own resources. Also losing importance in the south is Ahrar al-Sham, which is financed by Kuwait and supported by Qatar, which moved away from the FSA and joined the 13-group alliance affiliated with al-Qaeda. In the north, the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, which is affiliated with the FSA and opposes the ISIS, is losing power. Despite all these hard-to-decipher complex relations between the moderates, Salafists and al-Qaeda, the CIA continues to back the moderates.

When all is done, Qatar and the Saudis can pack up and leave, but there is no place else Turkey can go to. Once the borders are closed, the guns can turn against Turkey. Those who were saying they will take care of al-Qaeda once the revolution is accomplished have an al-Qaeda problem that now incorporates local elements. This is what is called the Pakistan syndrome. Was the parliamentary permission a solution to this? I don’t think so.

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