Who might drag Turkey into war?
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is adamant that Turkey will not send troops into Kobani, or anywhere else in Syria, to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He said this recently on BBC and repeated it over the weekend during the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) meeting in Afyonkarahisar.
“We will not be dragged into this war, but will not stay out of the game either. We spoiled the game of those who want to drag us into war here” Davutoğlu told AKP deputies during the meeting.
“They wanted to get us involved in the war under the guise of fighting ISIL. By allowing the Peshmerga through, however, we prevented Turkish soldiers from entering into war” he added.
Davutoğlu was referring to Ankara’s decision to allow around 200 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to enter Syria over Turkish territory to fight ISIL. Who he means when referring to the proverbial “they,” however, is not clear. There is more confusion in his remarks than just this.
It appears from his words that Ankara’s decision to allow the Peshmerga through has little to do with fighting ISIL, and is designed to prevent Turkish troops from entering the fray in Syria. This may be true since such a small number of Peshmerga fighters will hardly make a difference on the ground unless hundreds, even thousands, more are allowed through.
The problem here, however, is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said on record that neither Arabs nor Kurds want to see Turkish troops in Syria because they consider Turkey to be an obstructive power. It is not clear, therefore, why Davutoğlu continues to play the “we will not send troops” card as if he was defying something real.
What is expected from his government instead is that it contributes to the anti-ISIL effort on Turkish territory, not across any border. The government strongly denies it has aided, or is aiding ISIL, as many in the West and also in Turkey claim.
The government is allegedly doing this to prevent Syrian Kurds – whose main party Ankara has down as pro-Assad terrorist group – from gaining autonomy by using the Syrian civil war. While Ankara’s antipathy toward the Syrian Kurds is clear, it is unlikely that it is actively helping ISIL’s war effort at this stage.
This does not mean, however, that the government cannot do more to clamp down on the group’s illicit activities in Turkey. This includes preventing ISIL’s propaganda machinery, most notably over the Internet, especially when the government is so adept at going after web sites it does not like.
It also included preventing ISIL from recruiting in Turkey, as well as using institutions like banks, hospitals, shopping centers under various guises for its own purposes. It also means preventing the group from selling smuggled oil seized in Iraq.
Many western observers also feel Turkey could do more in facilitating military aid to reach Kurds who are fighting ISIL in Syria. None of this means Turkish boots on the ground. Ironically, the only scenario where Turkish boots might be seen in Syria is Ankara’s own scenario.
Namely, if a military protected buffer-zone is established on the Syria side of the border. Davutoğlu has said Ankara wants such a buffer-zone, although he prefers to euphemistically call it a “safe-haven for refugees.”
He has also intimated that Turkey will send troops to this buffer zone, provided the U.S.-led coalition makes fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime its main target. This means Davutoğlu is not really worried about Turkey being dragged into the war in the region.
He is prepared to allow Turkey to be dragged into his government’s war with the al-Assad regime, even though there is little public support for this in Turkey. It seems Turks worried about seeing their country dragged into a war in the Middle East have to be more alert against the intentions of their own government, rather than the wily designs of other’s, whoever “they” may be.