Turkey to attend London meeting of anti-ISIL fight

Turkey to attend London meeting of anti-ISIL fight

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will attend a meeting on countering the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in London next week, British Ambassador to Ankara Richard Moore said via Twitter yesterday, Jan. 14. That tweet was in reference to my piece titled “Turkey should not be excluded from anti-terrorism league” in the Hürriyet Daily News on Jan. 13. Implying that not all members of the anti-ISIL coalition have been invited to the London meeting, Moore stressed that Turkey was a “vital and valued partner on ISIL.”

The meeting is planned to be co-chaired by the U.K. and the U.S. The foreign ministers of 19 countries, plus three high ranking officials, will attend the meeting. Those three officials are Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s Special Envoy for Iraq; Federica Mogherini, the foreign policy and security commissioner for the European Union; and John Allen, the special envoy of U.S. President Barack Obama for the fight against ISIL. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is expected to be in London on the same day.

There is still no news on whether Turkey will attend the EU meeting in Brussels on Feb. 12, or the meeting in Washington, hosted by the White House, on Feb. 18.

But Turkey’s position regarding the fight against ISIL is heading toward a crossroads, especially after the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 17 dead, (20 including the attackers), on Jan. 7-9.

In a message on Jan. 14, al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the assault and a female suspect, Hayat Boumediene, who has alleged links with ISIL in Syria, is still on the run. Çavuşoğlu had announced earlier that Boumediene arrived in Istanbul from Madrid on Jan. 2, leaving Turkey for Syria on Jan. 9. He said all information had been handed over to French intelligence.

Both ISIL and al-Qaeda are on Turkey’s terrorism list, but Turkey’s position regarding ISIL and the jihadist activities in Syria is a little complicated. Turkey is a part of the anti-ISIL coalition, but as President Tayyip Erdoğan has said on a number of occasions, it will not give its full contribution - including ground support and the use of military bases - unless the coalition imposes a no-fly zone in Syria to protect refugees and Syrian opposition fighters from attacks by the air forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Everybody knows that will mainly be an American call. And they know that Obama, who is also dealing with a similar situation in Ukraine with Russia, does not also want a confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria. Plus, there is the Iran factor and the knowledge that the nuclear talks are heading to a critical state. Tehran also supports Damascus, which makes Obama’s even job more difficult.

As a part of the policy to eventually topple al-Assad, (which has not happened despite four years of civil war), Erdoğan is keeping the Syrian border open to allow refugees to come to Turkey freely. Their number is at least 1.6 million so far, according to official figures. However, it’s not only refugees who are coming back and forth across the 910 km-long border with Syria; sympathizers of al-Qaeda and ISIL are also travelling to Syria using Turkish territory, in order to get on-the-job military training in war. If they survive, they will go back to their own countries to continue the “jihad” there. This is why they are called “foreign fighters.”

When asked during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Jan. 10, Davutoğlu said his government was not keeping the border open for terrorists, but for refugees.

However, an important statement since then shows that the Turkish government’s border policy could be revised. On Jan. 13, Çavuşoğlu told a group of reporters in Cyprus that Ankara was also afraid of the return of its own citizens who have crossed the border to Syria to join to al-Qaeda or ISIL. He said the concern centered on around 500 to 700 Turkish “foreign fighters.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise if the Turkish government fine tunes its policy on ISIL and Syria, in order to endorse its position in the fight against terrorism.