Friction between Turkey, US ahead of Trump-Erdoğan meet
It has been revealed that both the American and the Russian military attachés were called to Turkish military headquarters in Ankara a short while before Turkish jets hit outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and northern Syria at 2 a.m. on April 25.
But both countries, Turkey’s NATO ally Washington and NATO rival Moscow, strongly criticized the action.
The Turkish government has a point in hitting the PKK in Sinjar: it is the geographical link between the PKK headquarters in the Kandil mountains in Iraq, next to Turkish and Iranian borders and PKK strongholds in Syria, called Rojava. If the PKK holds Sinjar as well, it will be seen by Ankara as a huge step forward for a territorial continuum for a Kurdish region under the control of the PKK, which is an organization designated as “terrorists” by the U.S. as well. Such a geographical corridor will cut Turkey’s links with the rest of Iraq and also the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq.
Ankara sent condolences to the KRG because five Peshmerga soldiers were killed in an air strike “by mistake,” but the KRG is known to be uncomfortable because of the PKK’s domination in and around Sinjar. The U.S. had earlier said it was against the PKK domination in Sinjar, seconding the KRG concerns.
Then why did the U.S. condemn the Turkish action? The answer was given in a Twitter message by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The tweet said, “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS.”
Is the PKK a partner of the U.S. in its fight against the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL)? On paper, no, it isn’t. But the PKK’s Syria branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are. And because of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s indeterminate policies, the U.S. is using the YPG as their foot soldiers against ISIL and in order not to attract more reaction from Turkey, hiding them under the umbrella of a certain Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) by including some Arab tribes into it. The result is that the PKK has started to carry out more and more of their activities not only in Syria but in Iraq too under the title of SDF in order to guarantee U.S. protection against Turkey.
That is why, as soon as the Turkish jets hit Sinjar, Salih Muslim, the head of the PYD, called on the U.S.-led coalition to stop Turkey. And that’s why CENTCOM sent a military officer to inspect the PKK strongholds guided by a PKK militant with an arrest warrant against him but in a uniform with a SDF badge on it.
The reality is that the U.S. forces have become so heavily dependent on the YPG/PKK in their fight against ISIL that they have become vulnerable to PKK blackmail. The PKK, as echoed by the PYD’s Muslim, said that if Turkey won’t stop hitting them, they will not be able to concentrate their forces on ISIL, which is the only priority of the U.S. in Syria, as a major operation against the ISIL stronghold Raqqa could be just days ahead.
On the other hand, Russia is not dependent on the SDF; they have Syrian regime forces as partners. But Moscow also protects the SDF/YPG forces against Turkish attacks because they are helping in their fight against ISIL. Perhaps also with a little bit of sarcasm, it must be fun for Vladimir Putin to pour fuel on the fire between two NATO country leaders, Donald Trump and Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan announced that he was going to meet Trump during his trip to the U.S. on May 16-17. It will be the first meeting between them. It is almost certain that the issue will be among the main topics at the meeting.
Erdoğan is preparing for another major step in consolidating his power in Turkey. After winning a referendum for a shift to an executive presidential system with a number of questions left behind, he is set to take over the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) through an emergency congress on May 21.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Ankara, said in an Atlantic Council conference in Istanbul that the U.S. backed a strong, prosperous and democratic Turkey.
We’ll see what kind of a shape the relations between Turkey and U.S. take, as the developments in Iraq and Syria are likely to escalate.