US caught between Turkey, Kurd rivalry in war against ‘IS’

They’re both key to US goals in the Middle East, but they’re bitterly opposed to one another. Turkey has bombed Kurdish positions in Iraq. The airstrikes could hamper Washington’s war against ‘IS.’

According to the Turkish government, there’s no difference between “Islamic State” and the Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). They’re both terrorist organizations.

“Whichever terrorist organization poses a threat to the borders of the Turkish Republic, measures will be taken without hesitation,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after Turkey launched operations against both groups. “No-one should have any doubt.”

But the secular PKK has proven one of the most effective adversaries of the “Islamic State” group, according to Michael Gunter, who’s written several books on the Kurds. So effective, that there have been calls in the US to remove the PKK from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

“The US should do it,” Gunter, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, told DW. “The US has been in effect supporting the PKK by supporting the affiliate of the PKK, the PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party], in Syria.”

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Iraq powder keg could ignite broader conflict

(By Deutsche Welle) Sitting at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq shares a border with virtually every major power in the region. The rapid advance of Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq could spark a broader regional conflict.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned a meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders in Jeddah on Wednesday that “this grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we cannot fathom.”

Al-Faisal called on Iraq’s Shiite-led government to address the grievances of the country’s Sunni community. He also warned against “foreign interference” in Iraq, a veiled jibe at Saudi Arabia’s archrival, Iran.

Tehran has said that it would intervene on behalf of Iraq, if Baghdad asked for assistance in its fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Wall Street Journal has reported that Iranian units have already been deployed to protect Shia holy sites in Karbala and Najaf and to stabilize the situation in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the former UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has drawn a connection between the current crisis in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria. Brahimi said that the international community had “unfortunately neglected the Syrian problem and did not help resolve it,” which has fanned the flames of sectarianism in Iraq.

“The jihadists’ action in Iraq is taking place against a backdrop of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis,” Brahimi told the AFP news agency last weekend.

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Turkey’s planned China arms deal ruffles feathers

(By Deutsche Welle) NATO member Turkey has agreed to enter negotiations with China over the delivery of a missile defense system, upsetting the United States and leading to a swift reaction from Washington.

The Turkish government’s preliminary decision to opt for a Chinese-made missile defense system over EU and US alternatives has angered Washington, with the State Department warning that Chinese technology cannot be integrated into NATO’s defense infrastructure.

Ankara has agreed to begin negotiations with Beijing over the delivery of 12 FD-2000 missile defense batteries, worth an estimated $3.4 billion (2.4 billion euros). Although the deal has not yet been signed, the Turkish Defense Ministry has openly said it prefers the Chinese offer, citing the cheap price and Beijing’s willingness to transfer the FD-2000’s technology to Ankara.

“We had asked for joint production and technology transfer,” Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told the Vatan newspaper. “If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.”

But the Chinese company handling the deal has also been sanctioned by the United States as a result of its previous exports. The China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) has allegedly transferred arms to Iran, North Korea and Syria.

“We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government’s contract discussions with the US-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing for reporters.

According to Turkish foreign policy expert Sinan Ülgen, Ankara is not seeking to send any sort of political message to its NATO allies by opting for a system produced by a US-blacklisted company. Instead, Beijing’s offer was simply better than those made by the US companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as well as the Franco-Italian firm Eurosam.

“This [Chinese] company happened to fulfill the criteria Turkey had set for itself in terms of price, in terms of performance and in terms of technology transfer,” Ülgen , with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told DW.

“And Turkey’s own national objectives were more important than the fact that this company happened to sanctioned by the US,” Ülgen said.

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Despite protests, Turkey remains ‘indispensable’ to West

(By Deutsche Welle) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on protests in Turkey has sparked condemnation in the EU and US. But as the West moves to up its involvement in Syria, it’s unlikely to risk a break with Ankara.

Long heralded in the West as a democratic example to the broader Muslim world, Turkey has elicited harsh condemnations from its allies in the European Union and the United States in recent weeks. Reacting to Erdogan’s crackdown on protests, both powers have called on Ankara to respect the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

In Washington, the Obama administration has – at least rhetorically – positioned itself on the side of the protesters. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney has said that the White House believes most of the demonstrators are law-abiding citizens. Prime Minister Erdogan had labeled the protesters as “looters” and “extremists.”

“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and a free and independent media,” Carney told reporters over the weekend.

But the protests in Turkey come during a critical juncture in Middle East, with the Western powers moving to become more deeply involved in Syria’s civil war. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would begin supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons, saying that the Assad government had crossed a “red line” by allegedly deploying sarin gas.

Turkey – which shares a 822-kilometer border with Syria – has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria, hosting more than 380,000 Syrian refugees and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on its territory. Western arms shipments are likely to be delivered to the FSA, which is considered to be more liberal and secular than Islamist rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.

“For the US to be able to implement that policy, it needs to work closely with the Turkish government as a conduit for those weapons,” Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkish foreign policy and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, told DW.

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Bleak prospects for no-fly zone over Syria

(Deutsche Welle) With the UN peace plan in tatters, regional battle lines are being drawn in Syria. Calls for a no-fly zone have grown, but the West remains reluctant to intervene during an election year and an economic crisis.

As Syria enters its 18th month of bloodshed, the conflict there has increasingly become a regional proxy war, with the United States and its allies – particularly Turkey – facing the difficult question of how to proceed in the wake of the failure of diplomacy to end the violence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Istanbul over the weekend, where she met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss what she called ways to “hasten the end of the bloodshed and [President Bashar] Assad’s regime.”

When asked by a reporter whether establishing safety or no-fly zones was under consideration,she indicated that both Washington and Istanbul were actively weighing the pros and cons of a military intervention.

“It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions,” Clinton told a press conference after her meeting with the Turkish foreign minister on Saturday. “But you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning. And we share not only the frustration, but the anger and outrage of the Syrian people at what this regime continues to do.”

As the civil war in Syria has escalated, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated and increasingly strained the resources of neighboring countries, particularly Turkey. The UN refugee agency reports that almost 150,000 Syrians have fled their homeland since the uprising began, with at least 50,000 taking refuge in Turkey alone.

According to the UN, the widespread and indiscriminate use of warplanes and helicopter gunships by the government against rebel forces in the city of Aleppo has led to a spike in the stream of refugees. Meanwhile, Western nations have expressed concern that the Assad regime could use its alleged chemical weapons in an act of desperation, or simply lose control of them as Syria slides toward collapse.

“The range of contingencies people are discussing is very much larger and there’s going to be a broader debate about responses, including a no-fly zone,” Ian Lesser, director of the Transatlantic Center with the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, told DW.

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