WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted Turkey’s right to attack neighboring countries, at least Iraq and Syria, without prior approval or coordination, although he seemed particularly focused on Iraq.
Speaking of “terrorists” who “escaped to Afrin and Sinjar,” Erdogan said, “We have told Baghdad that either they should deal with it or we will do it.”
“We are not thinking about waiting for any approval from anyone,” Erdogan added.
Turkey considers the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a terrorist organization. It also maintains that the People’s Protection Units (YPG), America’s most important partner in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, is an extension of the PKK.
Erdogan appeared to be countering a statement from State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, as she responded to a question from Kurdistan 24.
“We understand that Turkey has expressed” concern over the situation in northern Iraq. The US would “expect that any operations in Iraq would be done with the approval of the Iraqi Government,” Nauert said on Thursday.
“If Turkey is coming into Sinjar, they need to coordinate that with the Government of Iraq.”
Erdogan’s direct refutation of a US Spokesperson seemed to signal continuing tensions with the US, despite discussions aimed at settling differences between Ankara and Washington.
On Friday, Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Umit Yalcin met with US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan in Washington.
Their discussion took place within the framework of an agreement that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reached in a lengthy meeting with Erdogan in mid-February. It was followed by a technical-level working group meeting between representatives of the two countries in early March.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was supposed to travel to Washington on March 19 to follow-up the results of that meeting.
However, the removal of Tillerson from his position on March 13 has raised some question about the continued US commitment to the understandings he reached in Ankara.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency suggested that Yalcin’s visit on Friday had gone well.
The two sides “agreed to continue efforts in resolving major issues affecting bilateral ties,” including “the issue of Manbij,” Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkey objects to the current governance arrangements in Manbij. The city is administered by the Arab-majority Manbij Military Council (MMC). The political situation is stable, and the US supports it.
But Turkey complains that the YPG helped to establish the MMC and demands that the YPG leave the city. It has repeatedly threatened to attack Manbij, if that does not happen—as Erdogan did, again, on Monday.
Yalcin’s meeting with Sullivan followed just after US President Donald Trump’s surprise statement on Thursday that the US would leave Syria “very soon” and “other people” could “take care of it now.”
Trump’s statement may have satisfied Turkey briefly, but the earlier US position re-emerged on Sunday, as the Turkish press reported that the US was increasing its military presence in Manbij, following a bomb attack that killed two Coalition soldiers.
Erdogan’s belligerent statement on Monday thus followed a demonstration by US forces of the continuing US commitment to the status quo in Manbij.
Such bellicose statements The New York Times’ Carlotta Gall reported, play to Erdogan’s base, keeping his audience “spellbound.”
Erdogan reflects “the deepening global trend toward autocrats and swaggering strongmen,” Gall wrote.
As Ayhan Bilgen, a spokesperson for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) told the Times, Erdogan fits “the profile of right-wing, populist, authoritarian politicians.”
“Always creating tension, trying to make an argument over everything,” Bilgen explained, “and in the tension taking control.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany