Turkey and the New Middle East

A couple of months ago when I first returned from being an Election Observer in Syria, the sense of the people there, that victory was near, and that they would soon be rebuilding, was brutally crushed by the news of ISIS flooding into Iraq where they obtained new resources, US Weapons and Iraqi cash, and then returning to the base in Raqqa, Syria.  At the time I wrote about the support ISIS and other International Islamist militias are and have been receiving from the Gulf Arabs, and yes, from the United States.    I said that it surprised me when Erdogan not only joined in the battle against Syria but made Turkey a central element of the Syrian insurgency, not only training Syrian fighters, but opening the borders to the international jihadis transiting in and out of the country.

On the one hand, it had seemed prior to this moment, that Turkish President Erdogan was following a diplomatic policy of regional engagement that was working quite well, not only for Turkey but for the other countries in the region.   On the other, opening Turkey’s borders as a transit region for dangerous militants would seem a dangerous policy.  And where could it lead.   Well, it looks to me that we now see exactly where it has led.   Turkey is sitting on a powder keg, and her neighbors are preparing to set a fire. 

So, when I first mentioned this, I didn’t get a very positive response.  I said that the devil must have come to Mr. Erdogan and whispered in his ear.   He must have said, “Time to pay up, my good friend and NATO ally”  The devil probably said, “Don’t worry.  You will have the power you deserve,  and you will be righteous and Islamic democracy will prevail over a brutal secular government.”  And he overrode his instinct because he didn’t  have much choice in any case.    I was thinking about the movie with Al Pacino as the devil and Keanu Reaves as his son Kevin, whose ambition draws him into the devil’s sphere and binds him there at the cost of all he formerly valued.

Sure, Erdogan was always a ‘moderate’ Islamist, but his early initiatives were all focusing on regional solidarity.    Now Turkey is hosting some really dangerous and uncontrollable extreme Islamists.    This is was always a dangerous situation.  But now, with ISIS occupying a region that encompasses much of North East Syria and Iraq, and fighters crossing in and out of Turkey with impunity what will they do when they come under serious fire and need to retreat?   And what would they do if the Turkish army were to join the attacks against them?   These brutal thugs are, after all, inside Turkey where they operate factories and control border crossings.   They get treatment in Turkish hospitals.  Someone is Turkey is the middleman selling ISIS’ oil.   Most likely that ‘somebody’ isn’t the government, but surely the government is aware of their actions.

So what’s the devil thinking when he sets the fire; when he turns on ISIS in Syria and Iraq?   Is he thinking about Turkey at all?   Maybe not.  Maybe Erdogan’s on his own with a big problem, thinking that if he just treads softly, Turkey will get through this crisis unscathed.  But, there is another possibility.   The Pentagon is looking for a client in the region whom they can trust.   Kurdistan is looking better and better in this light.   I’ve been to Iraqi Kurdistan, and many Kurds think of the US at least as a friend and supporter, but some see it as their savior.   The Kurds have long wanted their own country, as they were promised in the Treaty at Severes at the end of World War I, which was later overridden.

But now, despite some sidesteps and feints, the US is giving more support to the Iraqi Kurdish Government than to the government in Baghdad, even with a new Prime Minister in place, a man who spent many years in the West before the last Iraq War.   The PYD, the Kurdish militia in Syria, has sided with the Assad government against the FSA and the other Islamist militias in Syria.   They are the strongest fighting force against them other than the Assad government.  The PYD sided with Assad because the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) wouldn’t back any of their interests or seriously consider any of their demands.  So, the US is thinking them might yet be lured to our side.   But the PYD is also an offshoot the the militia of the Turkish Kurds, the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization in the US and which has been at war with the Turkish army for a number of years, off and on.  Apparently this isn’t lost on the Turkish government because they are suddenly very willing to grant some long time requests of the Kurds that were never considered before.

kurdistan mapSo what happens if the US decides to support the PYD – they surely will – and ISIS goes to war with Turkey within her borders.   The Kurds occupy up to 1/3 of the land mass of Turkey, all across the southern borders with Syria and Iraq.    They will need the Kurds to fight ISIS.   The US is giving tacit approval to the Iraqi Kurds who have won new territory during this war with ISIS.   If they need proxy fighters in Turkey, will they do the same.   Yes.  It’s a little different from the current situation in Iraq.  But, it’s less different than the situation in Iraq when the US freed Iraqi Kurdistan using a no-fly-zone to protect them from Saddam Hussein’s army.

If you look at the maps that show the regional breakup of Iraq, you see that ISIS is precipitating that very result, with ISIS controlling the Sunni region, the Kurds to their north, and the Shia in the south, whidh Baghdad as their capiitl.  .  When you look at a map of the reorganization of the entire region, you come across something called ‘Greater Kurdistan’.   That would include the areas inhabited by Kurds, not only in Iraq, but in Syria and Turkey, and possibly even in Iran.  Wouldn’t it be convenient to create a client state that is beholden to you, in need of your support, and that occupies an area larger than the current Syria or Iraq?    What if the PKK were to join the PYD in fighting ISIS and find themselves in a position to take territories that had been ceded to ISIS by an overwhelmed and outgunned Syrian Arab Army fighting on 2 fronts, one with ISIS and the other Islamist gangs, and the other with the US lead coalition of the NATO countries with their local allies, who just by chance are long time competitors, shall we say, of Syria?

Maybe it wouldn’t happen right away.  The critical issue at the moment is to divide Iraq and smash Syria.   But what would protect Erdogan’s Turkey from the same fate?   Only the same devil that set him up.   And only if it were convenient to set aside ‘larger Kurdistan’ and continue to work the current client .   Now that’s a threat.

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