As tensions flared between the United States and Iran over the last ten days, a number of Washington’s Western allies have signalled their distance from the U.S. view, most dramatically in the case of Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top commander in the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), who dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment of an increased threat from Iran. This has since been walked back, but the fissures in the Western alliance over how to deal with Iran are real, and this has been compounded by differences within the U.S. government and the highly irregular nature of the Donald Trump administration, particularly its decision-making processes and public messaging. Continue reading
Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcotics trafficking entity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.
This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading
The local reporters at Raqqa 24 published a video yesterday containing interviews with some of the estimated 70,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who have been trapped at the camps run by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the vehicle by through which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operates to neutralize the political and legal obstacles to receiving Western assistance as it displaces the Islamic State (IS) across large tracts of land in eastern Syria. This has become yet another flashpoint, political and ethnic, as the SDF/PKK advances on the IS “capital” in Raqqa city. Continue reading
Published at NOW Lebanon.
The Pentagon-run train-and-equip (T&E) program had intended to take Syrian rebels, stop them from being rebels by preventing them from fighting the Assad regime, and repurpose them into an American-directed strike force against the Islamic State (ISIS). Unsurprisingly, there were few takers and the program ended in disaster and humiliation. In the wake of this failure, President Barack Obama has turned away from the Arab rebels and looked to the Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS. This is a strategy that is not only doomed to fail—since Sunni Arabs taking responsibility for their local security is the only way to sustainably defeat ISIS—but would, if implemented, make the ISIS problem worse. A report from Amnesty International this week documenting crimes, including ethnic cleansing, by the armed Kurdish forces against Arabs and Turkmens in northern Syria also provides an occasion to look more closely at a force with a history of regime collaboration, political extremism, and terrorism. Continue reading