Turkey, Macedonia sign free zone agreement

Turkey and Macedonia signed on Thursday a memorandum of understanding including free zone agreement.

The two countries signed the agreement during Turkey-Macedonia Trade and Investment Forum in the northwestern province of Bursa.

Turkey’s economy minister said on Thursday that whoever invested in Macedonia would gain.

Zafer Caglayan said Turkey and Macedonia had signed free trade and industrial zone agreements some time ago, and their bilateral foreign trade reached 400 million USD in 2011.

“Our aim is to raise our bilateral trade to 1 billion USD, and to increase our investments in Macedonia to 500 billion USD,” Caglayan said during Turkey-Macedonia Trade and Investment Forum in the northwestern province of Bursa.

Caglayan said Macedonia was one of the most important centers in Europe for Turkey, and whoever invested in Macedonia would gain.

Zafer Caglayan promised to raise Eximbank’s loan to Macedonia to 100 million USD from 50 million USD soon.

Turkey’s exports to Macedonia were up 14 percent and reached 299 million USD, while Macedonia’s imports to Turkey rose to 92 million USD with a 82 percent year-on-year rise in 2011.

Turkish companies have 180 million USD of investments in Macedonia.

Also, Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Macedonia Chamber of Commerce signed a cooperation protocol on the sidelines of the meeting.

During the meeting, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Macedonia had fulfilled NATO accession conditions in 2008 and the EU had ensured visa liberalization to Macedonia in 2009.

Gruevski said the EU told Macedonia that it had fulfilled all preconditions to launch accession talks, however his country could become a member of neither NATO nor EU due to political problems with Greece.

However, Macedonia was doing everything it could to overcome that problem, Gruevski said.

Gruevski also said that he believed that there would be no problems before Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership after the problem was solved.

AA

Ex-military Chief Faces Lifetime in Prison

An indictment against Başbuğ has been completed and forwarded to a court, seeking aggravated life imprisonment for the former military chief on coup charges.

General (Re.) Ilker Basbug commanded the Turkish Armed Forces from 2008 to 2010.

An indictment against former chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ has been completed and forwarded to a court, seeking aggravated life imprisonment for the former military chief on coup charges.

Başbuğ was put behind bars by an İstanbul court after he testified last month as a suspect in an investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Turkey has seen some retired generals jailed in coup cases over the past few years, but Gen. Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be caught up so far.

Başbuğ was placed in Silivri Prison where most coup suspects are jailed.

The indictment, submitted to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court accuses Başbuğ of “establishing or administering a terrorist organization” and “seeking to unseat the government of the Republic of Turkey by force.”

In his defense, Başbuğ denied all charges against him.

“The person who is accused of these charges is the 26th chief of General Staff of the Turkish Republic. I think it is important to note this for history. As the chief of General Staff, I was the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK]. The TSK is one of the most respected and strongest armed forces in the world. Accusing somebody who led such an army of establishing and administering a terrorist organization is really tragicomic,” he said.

The investigation in which Başbuğ is implicated concerns allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) set up 42 websites to disseminate anti-government propaganda. Dozens of suspects, including Başbuğ, are currently accused of having started an online propaganda campaign against the AK Party aiming to instill fear in the public that the government is trying to instate a religious order based on Islamic law.

The the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court will now decide on whether to accept the indictment or not.

Cihan

France backpedals on Armenian ‘genocide’

Sarkozy

French lawmakers appealed to their country’s highest court yesterday (31 January) to overturn a law that makes it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was genocide.

The move raises the possibility that the law, which sparked an angry reaction in Turkey, will be dismissed as unconstitutional.

The legislation, which received final parliamentary approval on 23 January, prompted Ankara to cancel all economic, political and military meetings with Paris.

More than 130 French lawmakers from both houses of parliament and across the political divide, who had originally voted against the bill, appealed to the Constitutional Council.

The court has one month to make its decision.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who branded the legislation “discriminatory and racist,” thanked the lawmakers who opposed it.

“On behalf of my country, I am declaring our heartfelt gratitude to the senators and deputies who gave their signatures,” he said. “I believe they have done what needed to be done.”

The lawmakers argued in their appeal that the event was still the subject of historical contention, and therefore the legislation infringed on the freedoms of historians, analysts and others to debate it, ultimately violating the right to free speech.

They insisted their move did not aim to deny “the suffering of our compatriots of Armenian origin and of all Armenians across the world.”

‘Patience’

Last week, Erdoğan said Turkey was in a “period of patience” as it considered what measures to take.

As a member of NATO and the World Trade Organisation, Turkey may be limited in its response by its international obligations. However, newspapers have listed possible measures that Ankara might take against France.

These included recalling its ambassador in Paris and expelling the French ambassador in Ankara, thus reducing diplomatic ties to charge d’affaires level, and closing Turkish airspace and waters to French military aircraft and vessels.

President Nicolas Sarkozy must still ratify the law, a move now on hold pending the court’s decision.

Mostly Muslim Turkey accuses Sarkozy of trying to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France in the two-round presidential vote on April 22 and May 6. France’s Socialist Party, which has a majority in the upper house, and Sarkozy’s UMP party, which put forward the bill, supported the legislation.

AFP agency quoted Sarkozy as saying that the move of the French parliamentarians to seize the Constitutional Council was not in his favour ahead of the April-May election.

“French companies in Turkey … wanted the Constitutional Council to be involved because it’s the best solution to calm the Turks,” said Dorothée Schmid, head of the Turkish program at the French Foreign Relations Institute in Paris.

“The Turkish government accused the French government of being racist and discriminatory, yet this matter stems from the inability of the Turks to handle the genocide case. Now there is a discussion on it.”

France is Turkey’s fifth biggest export market and sixth biggest supplier of imports of goods and services, and bilateral trade was €10.3 billion in the first 10 months of last year.

EurActiv.com

Turkey-Iran rivalry in Iraq?

Turkish Premier Erdogan with the Iranian President Ahmedinejad

“The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is reordering political dynamics not only in Baghdad but also in the broader Middle East. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a number of actors are seeking to fill the outsized role that America has played in Iraq over the last eight years.” says Sean Kane in his report ‘The Coming Turkish-Iranian Competition in Iraq’. “The two rising powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, share borders with Iraq and are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country.”

In this analysis, we will focus on the rivalry between these two rising powers in Iraq. Although it seems that the relations between Turkey and Iran are getting better in recent times, Iraq has become litmus paper in order to understand the real face of this friendly relationship. After a bit the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, first signals of conflict of interests between these countries began to emerge.

Neo-Ottoman and Neo-Persian Competition?

“From the sixteenth century until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Iraqi history was largely determined by the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians. After Persia converted to Shiism, control of Shia holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Samarra became symbolically significant to the Safavids, and the Ottomans tried to maintain Iraq as a Sunni buffer against the spread of the rival sect. In this centuries-long struggle, military conflict between the two empires focused on Mesopotamia rather than Asia Minor.” says Sean Kane. “The last century—the British mandate in Iraq, several decades of a strong independent Iraqi state, and the post-2003 American occupation—has been a hiatus from the historical pattern of Turkish and Iranian struggle for preeminence in Iraq. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw by December 2011, and the Iraqi state is not yet reconsolidated. Is competition among the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires likely to resume?”

I do not agree with Sean Kane in his categorization and approach because it is possible to skip political categorizations of 21st century when we get to the historical roots of this competition. In other words, secular/religious and cultural Islam/political Islam categorizations are more suitable for me in understanding this issue. If we pass over the Turkish model in the region and ethnical and sectarian divisions in Iraq, historical reasons will be more attractive to us. So, we should look at the different elements of this equation.

As Iraqi foreign minister Hoyshar Zebari says, this is the fact that today, Iran and Turkey are the biggest players and rivals inside Iraq. Soner Cagaptay, from Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, witnesses to this reality so: “Although both Turkey and Iran opposed the Iraq war at first, the fact that they have supported opposing camps in successive Iraqi elections has rekindled their competition. Today, Ankara and Tehran eye each other warily; neither wants the other to have more influence in Baghdad or over the Iraqi Kurds.”

Revelation of competition after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces

“The efforts of the Shi’ite to have a control over the fate of Iraq half-opened the way going towards the split. The Shi’ite Prime Minister Maliki’s show of force, his trying to push the Sunni out of the cabinet and the political course, his lashing out at Turkey, and Iran’s using itself for Syrian politics should be assessed as the first steps in Iraq going towards split.” says Cetiner Cetin, ORSAM Advisory Board Member.

As he mentioned, in the last period, Nouri al-Maliki revealed the coldness they have had with Turkey for a long time by indicating that they are concerned about Turkey’s interfering, rather than Iran’s, in the Iraqi internal affairs. “Right after the accusing and critical statements of Maliki, who draws his strength mainly from Iran, about Turkey, his accusing political attempts against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al Hashimi, who is known for his close relations with Turkey, and against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak are actually the first signals showing that there will be attempts to block Turkey’s effectiveness following the U.S. withdrawal.” he said.

Here, we want to focus on the roots of this competition.

The roots of this competition

“Eighteenth-century English statesman Lord Palmerston famously stated that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” says Sean Kane. “The starting point for forecasting the direction of Iranian-Turkish relations is therefore to examine each country’s interests in their old battleground of Mesopotamia.”

As he said, their political sway was made clear during Iraq’s extended 2010 cycle of government formation, when they were respectively instrumental in consolidating the two leading political groupings: Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya and Nouri al-Maliki’s National Alliance. While Turkey’s preference represents ‘secularism’; Iran’s preference represents ‘religious viewpoint’.

“Although Turkey and Iran have a lot of grounds on which to cooperate — the number of Iranians coming to Turkey last year was 2 million — the two countries struggling for leadership in the region have also opposing interests.” says Aydin Albayrak. “Iran is a major actor in Iraq, where it supports Shiite groups, whereas Turkey tends to support the secular movement while still maintaining good relations with Shiite elements.”

This means that although Iran and Turkey have good relations, their viewpoints are different from each other. “The relationship between Turkey and Iran has received heightened attention in the United States since the effort by Turkey and Brazil to negotiate a deal on the handling of Iran’s nuclear fuel in mid-2010. Although Ankara argues that Turkey’s new foreign policy platform of ‘zero problems’ with its neighbors and independent stance toward Western policy in the region poses no contradiction to its traditional Western alliances, some American policymakers and analysts view this approach as a realpolitik move by Turkey to reorient itself to the Muslim world, including Iran, based on Turkish economic and energy interests. Others believe that, despite this shift, Turkish and Iranian relations remain dominated by mutual mistrust and that the two countries view themselves as competitors for influence and preeminence in the region.” says Sean Kane. “More recently, a flurry of analyses has looked at Turkish and Iranian involvement in Iraq and whether the two countries consciously consider themselves rivals there.”

In addition to these, according to Joschka Fischer, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to maintain good relations with Iran, its ambition to become the leading Sunni power means that Turkey must sooner or later contest Iran’s influence in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Palestine. And that means conflict.

On the other hand, there are some commentators who reject the claims about the rivalry between Turkey and Iran. “Marina Ottaway disagrees specifically with the notion of a Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Iraq, arguing that Turkey has no interest in antagonizing Iran by playing the Sunni card in Iraq and has shown through its votes at the United Nations that it values good relations with Iran.”

What are roles of Iran and Turkey in Iraq?

“Ankara is now Tehran’s most viable rival for preeminence in the region, but compared to Iran, it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action.” said Alakbar Raufoglu. “With less than two months before American troops withdraw from Iraq, the question of whether Turkey is prepared to take the necessary actions to play a leading role in the region remains unclear. If Turkey fails, it risks ceding its influence to Iran.”

Moreover, according to Cetiner Cetin, now, we can more clearly see the fact that Iran does not intend to leave Iraq to anyone after the withdrawal of the U.S.

“The timing of the crisis shows that after the withdrawal of the U.S., Iran is not intended to leave Iraq to anyone else.” says Assist. Prof. Serhat Erkmen. “Another dimension of the timing of crisis is the fact that it came right after Maliki’s accusing and critical statements on Turkey. As it is well known, some time ago, Maliki revealed the distance with Turkey they have had for a long time by stating that he has hesitations not because of the possibility that Iran could interfere in the Iraqi internal affairs but that Turkey could do it so, in a statement he made to one of the U.S. journals.”

As we can see, many commentators and writers fear Iranian influence in Iraq. For them, Turkey is a balanced element in Iraq and they prefer secular Turkey to religious Iran.

“Turkey has the advantages of being neither Arab nor Persian and of demonstrating a newfound distance from Western powers. Its strategic goal of becoming an energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe also gives it a compelling economic interest in a unified and prosperous Iraq fueled by increased hydrocarbon production.” says Sean Kane. “Iran, on the other hand, has the advantage of religious and cultural ties with the majority of Iraq’s population, but its involvement in the country is toxic for the minority Sunni population and watched warily by all Iraqi nationalists.”

Additionally, according to him, “Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to represent the starkest opposing tendencies in Iraq, but Turkish influence is the most significant regional counterweight to Iranian preeminence. That Turkey is not identified with either pole of the region’s toxic ethnic (Arab-Persian) and religious (Saudi Wahhabi–Iranian Rule of the Jurist) divides means that it has greater acceptance in Iraq and potential for positive input. From the Iraqi Shia point of view, Turkey, despite being Sunni Muslim, is not perceived as a source of terrorist attacks in Iraq or intolerance toward Shiism in the way that the Wahhabi creed is.”

Here, it is required to look at the commonalities and differences between Iranian and Turkish policies in the region. Sean Kane summarizes these topics briefly:

“First, the commonalities. Both emphasize maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, particularly as it relates to their own restive Kurdish minorities, and avoiding a return to all-out sectarian conflict. Both also, somewhat reluctantly, accept the model of a federalized Iraq, but likely differ on the extent of decentralization this should entail.

It is on who should rule Baghdad and how that Ankara and Tehran have profound differences. As a secular democracy, Turkey publicly advocates for a genuine political process and broad, representative, and inclusive Iraqi governments in which no single group dominates. Although in practice tinged by its own Sunni orientation, particularly since the Islamist AKP came to office, Turkish political activity in Iraq does not approach Iran’s overtly sectarian approach. Tehran’s irreducible priority continues to be to ensure a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that would turn a traditional security threat into a friendly state.

Tehran and Ankara also differ in their reactions to the U.S. policy goal of a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq capable of positively influencing regional stability. Turkish officials assert that they cannot overemphasize the importance of a stable Iraq to Turkey, remarking that Turkey has paid a heavy price whenever Iraq is not stable, and that when Iraq is stable, the region is stable. The view from Tehran is radically different. Iraq has since ancient times been a rival and, more recently, a check to Iranian influence in the Middle East. This latter role encompasses the disastrous eight-year war Saddam Hussein launched in 1980, which included chemical weapons strikes against Iranian cities and the death and injury of as many as a million Iranians. Given this history, the prevalent view among Iran’s academic and political elite toward Baghdad is still one of mistrust and perceived threat. In fact, it is the veterans of that conflict that now rule Iran and they largely prefer a relatively weak, divided, and passive neighbor incapable of posing a future political or conventional military threat.

The third major area of diverging interests is trade. Both Turkey and Iran are vying to become Iraq’s leading commercial partner. Turkey sees Iraq as an integral part of its effort to become the economic bridge from the Middle East to Europe. Iran sees an opportunity to shift Iraqi trade eastward, away from its traditional orientation to the Arab world and Turkey, as part of its effort to become the connection between the Middle East and central Asia. Iran estimates its 2009 trade with Iraq at between $4 billion and $5 billion and has set a goal of increasing this to $20 billion within two years. Turkey estimates its own Iraqi trade at greater than $6 billion and expects it to grow to $20 billion within four years. In an ironic twist, the Kurdistan region has become the Turkish economic beachhead into Iraq, and Turkish companies now have leading roles in the construction, trade, and energy sectors in the north of the country. Iran, meanwhile, has the pride of place in southern and central Iraq, where it has become a leading investor in infrastructure, energy, and religious pilgrimage projects. Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani sees this as part of Iran seeking to realize a key foreign policy goal of establishing a ‘sphere of influence’ in Iraq’s southern provinces.

Despite the importance of trade with Iraq to both Iran and Turkey, the future of Iraq’s energy sector is even more significant and yet another area of difference. Turkey is not significant oil or gas producer but instead a rapidly growing hydrocarbon consumer. Moreover, a key strategic plank of its neo-Ottoman foreign policy is to become the main energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. As a hydrocarbon consumer and transit point, Turkey stands to gain on two fronts from dramatically increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production. Consequentially, Turkish state-owned and private energy companies have directly invested in six gas and oil fields in southern and central Iraq and are major players in oil exploration efforts in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iran is a hydrocarbon exporter, and, though it has explored gas transit deals with Iraq, its ability to tap its own vastly underexploited oil and gas reserves is precluded by international sanctions. Iraq’s ability to move forward with major international investment that Tehran cannot even contemplate for the forseeable future. Even partial Iraqi success in production increases could see Iraq overtaking Iranian production levels by 2015, and OPEC production quotas would therefore have to be recalculated.

Any possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the final point of difference between the two countries. The Turkish parliament famously refused to provide permission for U.S. troops to use Turkey as an invasion route in 2003. Privately, however, they now express support for a small, continued U.S. presence in Iraq after 2011 on the basis of worries about Iranian dominance in Baghdad and the future of the trilateral security mechanism established between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 2008 for combating the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). This mechanism, from the Turkish perspective, has proven useful in addressing a top national security concern and provided a diplomatic channel through which Turkey was able to conduct its outreach to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For Iran, the national security priority is the departure of ‘encircling’ U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran lobbied against the 2008 Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States that authorized the American military presence in the country until December 2011.”

When we compare the commonalities and differences in their policies, we can say that although it seems the direct opposite, their agenda is very different.

In that case, why many Western and American analysts emphasize the role of Turkey as a balanced element. If we can understand the expectations from Turkey in Iraq, it will be easy to show the whole picture.

What are the expectations from Turkey?

“Some suggest that the withdrawal of US troops has finally opened a new space for Iran to maneuver in the region that will strengthen Iranian domination. Some Turkish analysts suggest that the new Iraq is nothing but a new axis of an Iran-Damascus pact that enables Iran to have free geographical access from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.” says Emre Uslu, from Today’s Zaman Newspaper. “ Against this argument, some US experts, including political science professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT, think that ‘fears of Iranian domination of Iraq rest on the premise that Iraqi Shi’a identify so strongly as Shi’a and so little as Arabs or Iraqis that they will accept domination by Shi’a Iran. In fact, however, Iraqi Shi’a have a strong identity as Arabs and Iraqis. They have affinity for other Shi’a, but will not accept Iran or other non-Iraqis as overlords. Iranian dominance of Iraq is not in the cards’.”

In my opinion, this comment is very optimistic. It is a fact that the U.S. is afraid of Iranian influence and its receipt for this fear is Turkey’s balanced role.

As Vladimir van Wilgenburg mentions, a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace suggests that Washington should be less concerned about increased cooperation between Turkey and Iran because the two countries have different visions for the Middle East, suggesting that the “renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades.”

In addition to this reality, as we said before, it is very difficult to find any conflict between American and Turkish interests. So, many Western analysts suggest that Ankara’s engagement will be critical in limiting Iran and Syria’s (mostly negative) influence in Iraq.

“Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the American Interest magazine, said Turkish success in Iraq would lead to a less pro-Iranian coalition in Baghdad, referring to Turkey’s rivalry over the country.

Mead connected any Turkish success in the Middle East as equal to Iran’s failure. He said ideologically, Turkey hopes to lead the Sunni Islam world while Iran aspires to lead the entire Islamic world. He also added that the same thing could be applied to Syria where Turkey’s success there could be spelled as Iran’s failure as well as loss of Iranian ties to Hamas.”

Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, also, says Iraq’s other Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait — should stop isolating Iraq’s Shiite government and embrace it instead. If they don’t, he says, then Iraq will only be pushed closer to Iran.

Moreover, “They (Turkey) are doing this throughout Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in Baghdad and even Basra, which is not usually an area of Turkish influence,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “The presence of a Turkish consulate in Basra is very much part of a strategy to dam in Iranian influence in Iraq through investments and trade.”

According to diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish daily Milliyet, Ankara shares Washington’s concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. “The increase of the Iranian through Shia elements in Iraq, that is what Turkey will be worried about,” said Idiz. “And with Turkey there is a political competition going on for influence between Iran and Turkey.”

In addition to this, as Dorian Jones mentions, last month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Washington has proposed to take over the influential role of training Iraqi military personal, now that U.S. troops are pulling out.

“We have been contributing in training military elements in Iraq within the framework of NATO,” said Unal. “This issue has come up to the agenda, and of course, we will be considering it. According to Dorian Jones, such a move is seen as strengthening Turkey’s influence in greater Iraq and countering what observers say is expected growing Iranian influence with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

When we look at the picture from this side, it, unfortunately, seems to us that Turkey’s regional role is shaping around the Western and American interests in addition to its own interests. This Turkey is distant from being an alternative to Shi’a-Sunni polarizations. It means that Turkey sooner or later contests Iran’s influence and interests in Iraq. It also refers to the Turkish role and model in the region:

“This is partly a replay of Ottoman era politics. The new Turkish Islamist government is eager to revive Turkey’s historical role as the leading power of the region. (Two hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire ruled everything from the Danube to the modern Iran/Iraq boundary and across North Africa as far as Algeria.) As Arab nationalism has failed and declined, Sunni Islam has replaced it as the leading political movement in much of that world. Arab nationalism was both secular and anti-Turkish; Arab nationalists regarded the Ottomans as an imperialist great power. But if Arabs look at the world through a religious lens, Istanbul used to be the seat of the Caliph.”

Is Iran the winner?

“When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003.” says Peter Van Buren. “Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.”

In parallel to this comment, according to some analysts, the real winner of the war in Iraq is neither the Iraqis, nor Americans, but the Iranians.

But, Emre Uslu does not agree with this approach. “Does this means that Iran will have the freedom to do whatever it wants in Iraq?” he asks. “A simple answer to this question is no. There are at least two reasons why that is. First, despite the fact that US troops have withdrawn from Iraq, US influence on Iraq still remains strong through US advisors and Iraqi dependence on US armaments. Therefore, the US would exert its influence on Iraqi leaders to limit Iranian domination in Iraq. Second, Iraq’s dependence on US weapons systems prevents Iraqi Shi’a leaders from opening up wholeheartedly to Iran. Therefore, beyond the identity issues to be considered, there are more complex issues for Iraqi leaders to consider when leading their country.”

Conclusion…

“In the Middle East, there is room for one shah or sultan, but not a shah and a sultan.” says Soner Cagaptay. “Ankara and Tehran appear locked, once again, in their centuries-old competition to become the region’s dominant power.”

Although “Turkey adopted an attitude in favor of a broad-based government” in Iraq, Turkey prefers to be a side of the Iraqiyyah Party. Actually, this preference play along with a new Turkish role in the Middle East. As Sean Kane emphasizes, Turkey’s blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a more attractive regional template than Iran’s formula of Islamic theocracy and hard power.

This Turkey’s rising influence in Iraq will please the U.S. and Western countries. So, they encourage Turkey in order to be effective in Iraq. “Any attempt by Ankara to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq will likely strain relations with Tehran.” said Dorian Jones. “Those relations are already under pressure over Ankara’s support for the opposition against Tehran’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

On the other hand, as Veysel Ayhan mentions, “despite the fact that some Iranian writers argue that Iran defends the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, when one observes Iran’s policy over Iraq, it can be seen that Tehran has a policy of making relations with all the Iraqi groups.”

“This way, it is seen that it takes steps in directing all the groups in line with the interests of Iran or threatening them when needed.” he says. “It is also necessary to indicate that the countries defending the territorial integrity of Iraq are not pursuing a determined policy on this matter. On the other hand, the main target of the Iran regime is known to establish an Iraq that is easy to control and direct.”

As Brian M Downing emphasizes, sectarian conflict in Iraq is again a concern as the Shi’ite government seeks the arrest of a Sunni vice president whom they tie to an assassination team. But neither Turkey’s these approaches nor Iran’s privileged policies can solve the problems of Iraq. The stability and security in the region are not independently of the developments that may take place in Iraq and policies/influences of neighbouring countries.

In this game, Turkey should stay out of being a pawn for Western interests and adopt unique policies. In this way, Turkey may bring into a friendly connection with both Iraq and Iran. This approach will be approved from all the groups and fragments in Iraq.

By Ismail Duman, WB

Israeli Paper: Turkey May Fund HAMAS

Turkey may reportedly replace Hamas’ chief financier, Iran, to alleviate the Gaza ruling party’s financial pain as it has faced difficulty in receiving aid from the Islamic republic.

Haniye with Turkish Premier Erdogan in the AKP group building.

Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Turkish sources on Saturday that stated Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh conveyed his party’s financial difficulties to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his first visit to Turkey and that Turkey is seriously considering funding Hamas.

The report added that Haniyeh explained to Erdoğan in some detail the financial difficulties Hamas has faced after expected aid from Iran didn’t arrive on time and was significantly decreased.

Foreign aid is essential to helping Palestinians survive, including in Gaza, which, though ruled by Hamas, receives almost half of the Palestinian Authority’s budget in social services and salaries. It said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has left Syria for good and is considering moving the party’s headquarters to Qatar or Jordan.

Mashaal, 55, has been based in Damascus since 2001, fearing for his safety and restriction of movement in Gaza. He has been the chief of Hamas since 1996, responsible for setting policy and planning operations against Israel.

Earlier this month Haniyeh toured Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia. It was the first time he has left Gaza since Israel siege in 2007. He is also expected to visit Iran, Qatar and other Muslim countries at the end of this month. Hamas officials say the goal of Haniyeh’s trip was to improve ties with Muslim countries swept up in the uprisings shaking the Arab world.

An aide to Haniyeh said earlier this month that he would meet leaders in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey and discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip, which suffered damage during a month-long Israeli offensive in 2008-09.

WB

Iran Question & Turkey’s Own Nuclear Options

Western nations and Israel have employed all conceivable means to stop Iran’s nuclear program, from sabotage to assassination, from diplomatic pressure to economic embargoes and even cyber attacks.

Iranian airplanes carrying nuclear weapons-related technological equipment have been destroyed, nuclear laboratories have been blown up, imported equipment has been delivered to Iran in broken pieces, and scientists have been murdered. But the greatest blow thus far to Iran’s program came from a computer virus called Stuxnet, a joint US-Israeli venture. First an exact replica of the Iranian facilities was built by the Israelis in the desert at the Dimona nuclear site. This virus targeted command centers run by Siemens computers, which the Iranians were using to enrich uranium. The virus had unprecedented strength, with the ability to penetrate all Siemens systems worldwide, though it would only be active in the process of uranium enrichment. The virus made the tubes inside protective cylinders suddenly rotate very rapidly, ultimately breaking them apart.

It was in the latter half of 2009 that Stuxnet was released. Then, in the first months of 2010, the enrichment process in Iran began to falter. Thousands of tubes shattered due to Stuxnet, thus drastically slowing down its uranium enrichment program. By the end of the year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Tehran’s nuclear program had been set back many years. Meir Dagan, then head of Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, also said that Iran would not be able to produce nuclear weapons before 2015. America and Israel believed that their computer virus had accomplished what many had expected a military attack to do. This also explains why Iran’s nuclear program was put on the geopolitical back burner until mid-2011.

Turkey’s role as mediator

In May 2010, as a result of Turkey’s mediation, Iran accepted an exchange of the low-grade uranium it then possessed. But although the US had agreed to an identical exchange just the previous November, this time it refused. This change of mind was almost certainly connected to the Stuxnet virus. At the end of 2009 it was still unclear what the virus would achieve. But by the next May, even though the public was in the dark, Washington surely knew the damage had been done by the virus, and knew that such an exchange would be to Iran’s advantage this time around. Moreover, from the other side of the fence, this is probably the same reason that Iran was ready to accept an offer that it had rejected just six months earlier.

As it happened, however, the West was once again mistaken in its analyses. Iran was able to quickly shake off the effects of Stuxnet. By mid-2011, Iran was able to run even more centrifuge tubes, in more developed models, which revolved even faster. An unexpected consequence of all these attempts to derail its nuclear program was that Iran simply gained more experience and skill with nuclear technology.

To produce nuclear weapons using uranium, the most critical part of the process is to enrich it to weapons grade, around 90 percent purity. Iran has now succeeded in the most difficult steps: obtaining uranium enriched to at least 20 percent. Getting 90 percent enrichment in a few months no longer appears very difficult. In the meantime, there is some evidence indicating that Iran has initiated work to assemble nuclear warheads. Western countries are now planning to try to stop Iran with an oil embargo. If that doesn’t do the job, the West may come to the conclusion that it has no choice but a military operation.

An attack on Iran?

It is known that the Obama administration does not look warmly on an attack on Iran, and that it opposed the idea of Israel single-handedly carrying out such an assault on more than one occasion. The biggest supporter of a military solution is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who obviously hopes for an attack sometime this summer or fall, capitalizing on the competitive atmosphere of the US presidential campaign, and pressure Obama may possibly be facing. But even in Israel many stand opposed to an attack, including influential defense and security establishment figures, some prominent right-wing politicians and even members of the current government. For instance, after stepping down from the helm of Mossad, Dagan began an unusual media campaign. He publicly argued that attacking Iran would be “stupid,” and would cause a strategic catastrophe for Israel, leading to years of chaos in the region, along with adding legitimacy to Iran’s alleged reasons for developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he contended, Israel lacks the military capability for an effective strike against Iran without help from the US.

What should Turkey do?

Even if a military attack on Iran — which currently seems unlikely — were to occur, Iran now possesses enough know-how that the production of nuclear weapons is ultimately only a matter of time and political will. In such a case, Turkey will face a thorny question: Should Turkey also have nuclear capabilities?

Nuclear weapons were used for the first and last time by the US during World War II, on two Japanese cities. In the decades since, the huge effect of nuclear weapons on the strategic balance of global politics has come not from their use but rather their mere possession. According to the dictates of international strategy, the power of a country is, until it is used, the power that others assume it has. During the more than half-century of the Cold War, the single greatest weight on the strategic balance between the two blocs was the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear weapons.

A sound strategy, one with a good chance of standing the test of time, should take into consideration what might look like unthinkable options. Strategic efforts should aim at avoiding surprises. History has seen many victories and defeats emerge from options that once seemed totally unlikely. The winners have often been those who were able to think outside the box, while the losers were undercut by their inability to do the same. Politics and diplomacy, in protecting the interests of a country and even its survival, must always run reasonable, even calculated, risks. A policy aiming for zero risk is a policy of impotence. The risks that diplomacy can run are proportional to the margin of safety enjoyed by a country. Additionally, the risks faced by a country tend to rise as the power and associated ambiguities of the other sides also rise.

If and when Iran conducts its first nuclear test and continues to build up a nuclear arsenal, this would deeply upset the strategic geopolitical balance and psychology in this region. In fact, what follows would be unlike anything ever seen in the Middle East. Israel currently maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons, to keep the world guessing what conditions would lead to their use. If Iran also finally manages to obtain nuclear weapons, it will probably take a similar path. Such developments in turn would sow ambiguity even denser than that of the tense Cold War period.

If Iran does go nuclear, the US will most likely offer its nuclear protection umbrella to a number of countries in the region, including Turkey. For Ankara to accept such an offer would be reasonable only if it doesn’t relinquish its own nuclear option. Otherwise Turkey could be, as circumstances develop, a strategic hostage to the US in the Middle East. Turkey has a legitimate right to consider all future possibilities. For instance, the US might choose to withdraw into its own shell, pulling back beyond the Atlantic. Or a new administration may emerge in Washington under the influence of the extremist pro-Israel and evangelical Christian groups. And if the current Iranian regime changes or even if it doesn’t, there is also the possibility — currently a remote one, to be sure — that Washington and Tehran could build an alliance of sorts. Each of these possibilities may force the need for nuclear capability for Turkey.

EU membership and the nuclear option

European Union membership would certainly reduce Turkey’s risks, and largely eliminate the nuclear option. The opposite scenario, in which Turkey’s EU membership prospects die and Iran builds up a nuclear arsenal, would pose a troublesome situation. In that case, to avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck of heightened risks, Turkey would need to seriously consider developing its own nuclear capability. To date, the relationship between a possible nuclear option for Turkey and its EU prospects has not received a great deal of attention. Yet this relationship ought to be handled carefully.

For the time being, Ankara could initiate a well thought-out and comprehensive nuclear technology program. It should aim to develop its technological know-how, essentially in pilot plant capacities for nuclear fission chain reaction materials. This could encompass various methods, including centrifuge and laser technologies. And finally, Turkey must also improve the range of its guided missiles.

By Haluk Özdalga

Turkey is not platform for attacking Iran – Turkish FM

Turkey and Iran have shared a peaceful border for centuries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined that his country will not allow the NATO to use its territory to strike Iran.

Davutoglu made the remarks during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

He said that Turkey has never cooperated with those who wanted to harm its neighboring countries like Russia, Iran or Syria.

Iran-Turkey border has always been a border of peace, and it will continue to be so, he added.

Noting that he discussed Iran and Syria issues with Lavrov, Davutoglu said that Turkey’s position with Russia was very similar in Iran issue, adding that talks on Iran’s nuclear program should resume rapidly.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia and Turkey had almost the same position on Iran and Russia wanted this issue to be solved through diplomatic means.

Moscow believes that Iran’s nuclear problem can be solved only diplomatically and politically, he added.

Russia wants the soonest resumption of the talks between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran.

Israel and its close ally the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Both Washington and Tel Aviv possess advanced weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Iran has, in return, warned that it would target Israel and its worldwide interests in case it comes under attack by the Tel Aviv.

The United States has also always stressed that military action is a main option for the White House to deter Iran’s progress in the field of nuclear technology.

Iran has warned it could close the strategic Strait of Hormuz if it became the target of a military attack over its nuclear program.

Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the strategic Persian Gulf waterway, is a major oil shipping route.

Davutoglu: NATO threatens neither Iran, nor Russia

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has given an interview to Interfax in the wake of negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in which he speaks about pressing international issues like Syria and Iran, as well as Turkish-Russian energy cooperation.

Question:At a press conference with Mr. Lavrov I noticed that you never mentioned that Turkey insists on Bashar Assad stepping down. Does this mean that Turkey still thinks that if Bashar Assad makes all the necessary reforms he can stay in power and he does not have to leave?

Answer:Syrian people will decide on this: who will be in power or who will not be in power, not us. But I think that who fights against his own people cannot have legitimacy. Therefore, the important thing is how Syrian people perceive the Syrian regime and President Bashar Assad. That is to decide for the people of Syria. The important thing is that Syrian people was not given the right to decide on this. Now the massacre must be stopped, the Syrian losses should be ending, and there should be no more attacks against civilians in the cities by the army, and full security and reforms should be together. That‘s our position. We ask Bashar Assad to listen to his own people.

Q.:If the Syrian crisis ends and Bashar Assad stays in power, will there be a possibility of improving relations…

A.:That is an ‘if-question‘. No president can stay if conflicting with his own people this scenario is impossible. Leaders and regimes an survive only if there is a support by the people of that country. Fighting against people and staying in power is not possible.

Q.:The Russian side has repeatedly insisted that the international community must do its best to stop violence either from the authorities of Syria and the armed opposition. Do you agree with this approach?

A.:Of course, the Syrian administration must stop using army against the people and should stop [] casualties and at the same time we always advise the Syrian opposition to express themselves people peacefully and using peaceful methods to express their demands. But the problem here is that the Syrian regime does not allow to demonstrate peacefully. That‘s the problem.

Q.:Turkish authorities have same contacts with a part of the Syrian opposition, it gives its territory for the Syrian opposition to meet and discuss the problems. Does Ankara has any relations with armed opposition in Syria?

A.:Turkey is democratic country. Everybody can met in Turkey. Even Syrian opposition meets in Turkey, even those who are supporting the Syrian regime meet in Turkey. Turkey is a free country, but we never supported any armed group in any country. Turkey has been a place where refugees, those who are escaping from oppression, can come to Turkey, and they are coming. There are 9,500 Syrian refugees staying in Turkey. They are our guests because they are our relatives and there are our ancestors escaping from oppression.

Q.:What do you think about the new EU sanctions on the Syrian regime? Do you think it will help to solve the problem?

A.:Unfortunately, the Syrian administration did not listen to our advice: the advice of its neighbors, like Turkey, the advice of Arab countries of the region and the advice of the international community, including Russia and others, for functioning the reform process and providing security to the civilians. This is the problem. Therefore, that is the Syrian administration responsibility to fulfill this.

Q.:Recently the EU has imposed an oil embargo on Iran. Ankara has good relations with Tehran. Is there any possibility that Turkey can increase supplements of Iranian oil to help Iran to go thorough this negative period?

A.:We have very good relations with Iran, and we have been working very hard for the negotiations with Iran within P5+1. This policy, Turkish policy, will continue in order to find a solution, peaceful solution to this issue. And of course the UN Security Council resolutions are binding, but other unilateral sanctions are not binding, and Turkish-Iranian economic relations will continue within the framework the international law.

Q.:Turkey is a NATO member. NATO does not hide that the target of its European anti-missile shield…

A.:There is no special reference to any special country regarding the missile defense issue.

Q.:But various politicians say…

A.:I do not see any NATO statement officially made by any NATO official declaring the name of any country as a threat or a target regarding the missile defense system.

Q.:Does Turkey think that Iran poses any nuclear threat to Europe?

A.:No. Not to us, Turkey. We do not see such a threat. We do not see any threat from any of our neighbors.

Q.:And what about Europe?

A.:That is not an issue for us. For us we do not see any threat. And NATO makes no reference to any country: neither to Iran, nor Russia.

Q.:You spoke today about the Turkish-French relations. Turkey said it will take some time in order to answer the French legislators who decided to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. What measures you were talking about?

A.:Now we are waiting for the constitutional process to be finalized. There is an attempt by some members of the Senate to go to the Constitutional Council, and we will wait for the results of this process. If these effort do not produce a positive result, than everybody will see our measures, but at this moment we are expecting the results of this process.

Q.:As far as I understood that that your negotiations with Mr. Lavrov were a part of preparations for the Russia-Turkey summit. Is there any specific date and place of the summit?

A.:This summit is Turkish-Russian High Level Cooperation Council meeting, which is being held annually. Every year one meeting is of joint strategic planning committee, what we did today. The other part is the summit. We plan the meeting in the coming months, of course it will be after the election in Russia. Then we expect the date from our Russian counterparts, the most appropriate date in the following months after the election.

Q.:And it will be organized in Turkey?

A.:Yes, in Turkey.

Q.:The Turkish energy minister said that Turkey is ready to talks about some partnership on South Stream as we know Turkey is not a partner in this project. Now Turkey is not a partner, it only give its territory. What this will look like?

A.:We think that it was giving permission to the construction of South Stream in the Turkish economic zone. This is a strategic decision in our bilateral cooperation. It show a strong political will on the Turkish side to cooperate with Russia on energy issues. I am sure there will be a huge potential on how to cooperate on all these issues, and our energy ministers will be talking this possible cooperation prospects.

Q.:Another energy question. Do you have any information about how the talks between Gazprom and private Turkish companies in order to replace the contract with Botas that expired last year.

A.:It is going well. It is the issue of mutual interest.

Q.:How did the last year bilateral agreement that increased the supplements of Russian gas to Turkey can influence the talks between Gazprom and private companies?

A.:This is an economic issues between the two campmates. So it absolutely another issue. The talks have continues. There is a potential between the two countries for official projects for future cooperation, so that is important. But the negotiations will continue between companies .

Q.:Let me return to Bashar Assad. Must the international community prosecute him, if he leaves his post?

A.: The Syrian people will decide on all of these issues. We cannot decide on their behalf. So an important thing for us as a neighbor of Syria is to complete this process in a peaceful manner based on aspirations of the Syrian people.

Interfax

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS

Syria regime ‘using’ PKK, dissident says

The Syrian wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is being used against Syrian protesters calling for an overthrow of the government and could soon be deployed against Turkey, according to several Syrian opposition figures.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s Syrian branch, is currently acting in concert with the Syrian regime to suppress protesters, Mohammad Bassam Imadi, an opposition figure who was Damascus’ former envoy to Sweden, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

The claim was echoed by a high-ranking member of the opposition Syrian National Council, as well as the head of the likeminded Syrian National Alliance.

Imadi said Salih Muslim Muhammed, who has been PYD leader since 2010, was not allowed to enter Syria before but had now been allowed to return to the Arab republic.

“I told Salih Muslim that he had been enemies with the regime in the past and asked him how he was allowed to operate in Syria now. He told me that the PYD had never been enemies with the Syrian regime,” Imadi said, adding that he now understood Damascus was using the group against anti-government demonstrators.

“PYD leaders [also] told me that if Turkey intervenes in Syria, they would fight against Turkey,” Imadi said.

“The Syrian regime uses the PYD militants as part of the Shabiha forces, which act as the shadowy militia of the regime that assists in its brutal crackdown,” Imadi said.

Salah Eldin Bilal, a Kurdish-Syrian opposition member who escaped from the Syrian regime 15 years ago and has since been living in Germany, corroborated Imadi’s claims, saying the Syrian regime had so many cards in his hands that it could use them against the other countries in the region.

“They can use some parts of the Kurdish movement against Turkey as they have used them before. However, as Syrian Kurds, we shouldn’t be used against any other country, we want all Syrian people to be together,” he said.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

HDN