Last week, for the first time since the start of the War in Syria, Turkish forces, backed by the United States, crossed the Syrian border and openly intervened against so-called ‘Islamic State‘ forces with heavy artillery strikes on the city of Jarablus (controlled by ISIS), which is situated on the Turkey-Syria border and on the banks of the Euphrates.
On 24th August, a rag-tag of Syrian ‘opposition groups’ led by Turkish special forces (and Turkish tanks) entered Syria and soon captured the city.
The Syrian government in Damascus condemned the action as a flagrant violation of sovereignty: which is precisely what it is. For all intents and purposes, the Turkish military just invaded Syria in tanks and is answerable to no one.
Given the Turkish state’s recent track record, it seems less likely the primary motive was to fight ISIS and more likely that the incursion is aimed at inhibiting Kurdish aspirations.
Under a day later, the US demanded that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) leave Manbij – a town the Kurdish fighters had only recently captured from the so-called Islamic State group. As the International Business Times puts it, ‘the US took the strategy it itself initiated, nurtured and supported, and dumped it into the trash.’
It continues, ‘the Turkish intervention in Syria seems to have change the US’s “inherent resolve”. Gambling away its only remaining ally in the war-torn country, the US is realigning its strategy with Ankara, at a time when the relationship between the two countries has never been worse.’
The utter chaos that has been created in the Middle East from 2003 onward has now led the United States to a situation where it is literally incapable of finding any strategy that makes sense: because all there now is an utter quagmire in which a dozen or more parties are in it for their own interests and no even knows what the common good is anymore, let-alone knowing how to pursue it.
Washington’s ‘strategy’ doesn’t just appear a mess – it appears non-existent. Within more or less a day, the US went from scrambling jets to protect the Kurdish forces from President Assad’s air-force in the city of Hasakah to demanding the Kurds leave Manbij – a town that Kurdish fighters, backed by US planes, had been fighting (and laying down their lives) to capture in the last several months.
The US appears to now be accommodating Turkish interests at the expense of its Kurdish allies: the interests, at that, of a Turkish government that it has also just been accused of trying to overthrow.
Meanwhile Turkey – which is becoming an even more confusing state than Syria – appears to have pivoted away from the United States and has recently mended fences with Russia in order to become more directly involved on the ground in Syria (which, remember, was always part of the plan for invading Syria – except Turkey was supposed to be acting as a NATO member in that regard) supposedly for the sake of fighting the Islamic State (you know, the same Islamic State that Turkey has been aiding and doing business with).
But is Turkey really fighting the so-called Islamic State or just continuing to use IS as a cover for suppressing Kurdish aspirations? That is after all what it was doing before – conducting airstrikes against Kurdish groups under the guise of bombing IS targets.
This wouldn’t be the first time that NATO-member Turkey has used a foreign war as a cover for pursuing its own agendas against Kurdish interests. US President George W. Bush and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also colluded under cover of the illegal Iraq War. With full logistical support from the United States, the Turkish army had used the Iraq chaos to carry out attacks against members of the PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) in Northern Iraq.
It is of note that the Syrian-Kurdish YPG forces were reported to have been advancing on Jarablus themselves following their military victory over IS in Manbij just prior to Turkey’s sudden incursion: and so, in effect, Turkey’s incursion ‘against ISIS’ has prevented Kurdish militias from taking Jarablus.
There are also suggestions that the Turkish government had been wanting to militarily intervene in Syria for some time, but had been encountering resistance from within the Turkish military: but that the recent purge of the military (in the wake of the ‘failed coup’ attempt) has allowed the government to push ahead with its plans.
The head of the Syrian-Kurdish forces, Salih Muslim, claimed before the operation that Turkey was still backing jihadists in Syria. “Turkey is also trying to activate terrorist groups like al Qaeda in Syria, which are celebrating the beheading of children in Aleppo,” he said.
The YPG has in fact accused Turkey of continuing to support ISIS while the YPG-linked Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were fighting the jihadists in Manbij – the same town Washington has just told them to vacate after having captured it from ISIS. They allege that hundreds of foreign mercenaries and fighters continued to enter Syria through the Turkish border during the fighting – just as has been going on for years now.
Turkey has become virtually a rogue state, invading where it pleases, attacking where it pleases, and doing whatever it wishes both at home and across borders. But in this, it is only following the example already set by the United States, France, Israel and others, who have already disregarded international law and sovereignty in Syria.
In terms of Jarablus, Turkey of course has some justification in seeking to protect its national interests so close to the border (although not the right to send tanks and military into Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government); but let’s not forget the key role Turkey has played in facilitating the bloody conflict in Syria in the first place, in which Turkey has shown no respect for Syria’s national interest or sovereignty.
Violating another country’s sovereignty in order to protect your national interests isn’t how international law works.
But again, to be fair to Turkey, it simply among multiple other nations breaking international law and violating Syria every day: respect for sovereignty appears to very much be dead.
Now, having spent years – along with Washington, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and co – aiding terrorists in Syria, Erdogan’s government has suddenly decided it wants to fight some of those terrorists (while still collaborating with groups considered terrorists by Damascus in order to do so). And amid all of this, a government that has worked with the worst terrorists insists the PKK is a terrorist organisation that it has every right to go after, even in someone else’s country.
The Turkish government has always been entirely opposed to any move towards Kurdish autonomy or independence and sees Kurdish activity in Syria and Iraq as a threat to its own interests: it has been consistent in that position all along. Therefore, Washington should have perhaps foreseen the problems that would emerge if it supported groups that its own key ally (and NATO member) considered a threat.
The problem in this scenario is how ridiculously complicated it has become.
It is quite obvious that at this point in time any plans to create an independent or autonomous Kurdish territory would unfold as part of the well-known plans to federalize Syria and carve up Israel’s Arab neighbors into smaller, less powerful mini-states. This was a plan – originally covert, but eventually overt – originating in Israel, but adopted by Washington (and which Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails reveal she was very much privy to).
It is a plan that is rejected by most Syrians; and moreover, given its corrupt, cynical origins, and the bloody, vicious means employed to bring it about, it is a plan that would be rejected by most moral people.
When Syrian Kurdish representatives recently declared a federal Kurdish region in Syria, the Assad government would’ve legitimately seen it as a move towards the aforementioned federalisation of Syria and Balkanisation of the region – which it rejects outright, seeking only the survival of a complete and sovereign nation of Syria.
The Turkish government, which clearly doesn’t care about Syrian sovereignty, nevertheless shares this opposition to Kurdish independence: and must’ve assumed its own invasion of Syria to thwart Kurdish maneuvers would be welcomed by Damascus.
Unfortunately, none of that helps the Kurds, who have been used and who have laid down their lives on the front-lines against ISIS.
Where members of the Washington-backed and mostly Shia Iraqi Army famously fled at the first sight of ISIS forces back in 2014, the Kurds stood their ground and confronted the so-called Islamic State fighters wherever they could.
But Washington in essence appears to be throwing its only remaining ally in Syria under the bus: and at a time where the other involved powers appear to have doubled down to protect their own allies – Russia and Iran protecting Assad and the Syrian state, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia protecting their jihadist militias.
The Kurdish fighters in both Syria and Iraq have been Washington’s most reliable ally on the ground. They are also the only Washington-backed group in the Syrian conflict who can genuinely be described as ‘moderates’ and even progressives (unlike all of the other US-backed militias, which are nothing of the sort). Yet, curiously, while the US continues to try to propagandise for (and making excuses for) its Saudi-backed jihadist groups in Aleppo, a cynical maneuver by Turkey is all that was needed for the Kurdish fighters to be disavowed.
It is the Kurds that have done most of the fighting and dying on the ground in the West’s fight against ‘ISIS’ (‘ISIS’ being an organisation grown out of US wars in the first place and supported and nurtured by several governments and intelligence agencies); but they may be awaking to the reality that they’re not going to gain anything from all of this, other than having been an expendable pawn in a Middle Eastern conflagration that they didn’t create.
Often when I mention the Kurds, some people question me on it, reminding me of the ‘Yinon Plan’ and the aforementioned scheme to carve up the Arab world into tiny, weak pieces, which the move for Kurdish Independence would be a central part of.
The mistake, however, is to inextricably link Kurdish Independence with the ‘Greater Israel’ idea or the Balkanisation plan as if the two things could never exist apart.
A Kurdish desire for independence of course exists and existed prior to and independent of any cynical international ‘plan’ to Balkanise Syria and the Middle East.
This didn’t originate with Zionist policy-makers or journalists or in Washington: but in the consciousness and desires of Kurdish people. The Kurds have been a marginalised and oppressed people in more than one country. Comprising some 26 million people, have been scattered across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, spending the last century a dispersed people without a homeland and repeatedly facing brutal oppression.
It is written that a century or so ago, during World War I, the Kurdish rebel leader Mahmoud Barzanji used to carry with him a copy of Woodrow Wilson’s ‘14 Points‘, drawing such inspiration from America’s history of self-determination.
But again the Kurds have simply been used as pawns in a geopolitical scheme in which they were bound to play their part: a part that they appear to have played with goodwill. But many among them might’ve sensed all along that they would be let down by their foreign sponsors in the end.
Abandonment of the Kurds, after all, appears simply to be a cyclical element of history.
Among other incidents in the Middle East in the past century, Iraqi Kurds had been encouraged by the George Bush Snr administration in 1991 to rise up against Saddam Hussein’s regime; but the American regime didn’t provide any of the support it had promised them, US troops never came, and thousands of Kurdish villagers were reportedly slaughtered, with millions of Kurds having to flee in a mass exodus, some 1.5 million of them to Turkey.
Before the First World War, the British Empire had already tried to utilise the Kurds against the Ottoman Turks in order to secure British control of oil-rich provinces (such as Mosul in Iraq). But the British and other imperial powers backed out of implied (as in never made into written promises) agreements with the Kurds (for their independence), just as they had done with the Hashemite Arabs who’d done the majority of the fighting on Britain’s side in the Arab Revolt.
Fast forward a century and they are once again canon fodder in other peoples’ wars: and have once again fought and suffered on the front lines, but are looking increasingly unlikely to be rewarded, as the governments in Turkey, Syria and Iran – albeit for different reasons – appear entirely unwilling to accommodate any moves towards more Kurdish independence.
And with the Americans – who relied so heavily on the Kurds to fight ISIS – possibly abandoning them, there remains a possibility that they will be subject to even harsher crackdowns not only in Turkey but in other lands too.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Syrian Kurdish authorities appear to have recently been turning away from Washington and towards Moscow. Which raises interesting questions about what Kurdish autonomy would look like if aided by a Russian foreign policy that is entirely committed to the preservation of the Assad government and a sovereign Syria.
Perhaps that’s the approximate direction that the ‘common good’ might be found in. But the whole situation now is too complicated to able to say.