Sound of silence over Syria

Sound of silence over Syria

Oct. 19’s terrorist attack in Hakkari’s Çukurca district that killed 24 troops and injured 18 has drastically changed the course of Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

It rapidly mobilized to send troops into northern Iraq from where PKK militants infiltrate into Turkey to perpetrate their bloody terror acts. The operation entered its sixth straight day yesterday with reports signaling that Turkish troops would not leave the region soon.

If there hadn’t been a devastating earthquake that killed more than 350 people in Van, causing nationwide sorrow and a swift show of solidarity, the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) ongoing operation in northern Iraq and its militarily and political consequences would have been more hotly debated.

Let us, in this column, focus on the foreign dimensions of Turkey’s operation.

Masoud Barzani, the head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, was among the first regional leaders to call Ankara to express his condolences over the dead soldiers and sent his nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, to hold talks with Turkish officials on the PKK. For Turkish diplomats, though there is a long way to go in this cooperation, Masoud Barzani’s first and immediate actions were promising. A detailed action plan is currently being drafted in Ankara ahead of Masoud Barzani’s visit to Ankara in the coming weeks.

The same is not true for Iran, whose foreign minister paid a visit to Ankara on the heels of Nechirvan Barzani. Turkish diplomats have not been satisfied with the intelligence Iran has been providing Turkey in recent months. Turkish chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel clearly ruled out a joint operation with Iran against the PKK.

In the overall assessment, Turkey is satisfied with the intelligence provided by the United States but says the two allies are making efforts “for more concrete results and improved efficiency.” Turkish officials are eagerly awaiting a positive response to Ankara’s demand that Predators in İncirlik be deployed for the surveillance of the mountainous Iraqi border.

Last but not least, the solidarity shown by some European Union countries in the aftermath of last week’s attacks has been welcomed in Ankara. Strong statements condemning the PKK and advice to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to disassociate itself with terrorist organizations were seen as hope-inspiring developments here.

In addition to these points, there is growing concern among some Turkish officials that either Syria or a third party that wants to create further tension between Ankara and Damascus might have been behind the recent attack. The growing influence of Syrian nationals within the PKK and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s statements are the factors that most clearly point to this connection. Ankara’s silence on such claims is expected to be broken in the coming days when the prime minister makes his much-expected statement on Syria, most probably before U.S. top diplomat Hillary Clinton arrives in Turkey on Nov. 1.