Erdogan vows not to allow a second ‘Northern Iraq’ in Syria

The Turkish president has previously said Ankara would not accept a second self-ruling Kurdish entity in the Middle East.
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday reiterated his government’s plans to destroy the Kurdish-led autonomous region in northern Syria, which he likened to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, stating he would never tolerate it.

Addressing an economic forum in Turkey’s capital of Ankara, Erdogan gave his understanding of “the safe zone” in Syria his American counterpart Donald Trump first mentioned for the US-partnered Kurds over a week ago amid a debate surrounding the latter’s shockingly abrupt order to withdraw troops from Syria.

“We are talking of a safe zone against terrorists. We cannot give consent to an implementation similar to that in Northern Iraq,” the Turkish president said, referring to the 1991-2003 zone that US-led world powers created to keep the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s genocidal army in check, a situation that soon led to the formation of the Kurdistan Region after the Second Gulf War.

This was one of the many times Erdogan made clear that Ankara would not accept the emergence of a second self-ruling Kurdish entity in the Middle East as a restive population of some 20 million Kurds in the NATO member Turkey demand similar rights and recognition of identity, language, and culture.

In December 2018, only days before Trump announced his order to US forces in Syria where they support Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, Erdogan told his supporters that he received concessions from Washington and that he knew “terrorist Kurds well.”

He quickly amended his remarks to “my Kurdish brothers” and said Turkey was fighting “only against terrorists of” the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the US-armed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara’s official policy is that the YPG are “terrorists” and thus cannot be allowed to hold the vast northern and eastern parts of Syria they, with the help of the US-led Coalition, liberated from the Islamic State.

A woman holds a Kurdistan flag in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishlo as people turn out on Sept. 26, 2017, to support the Kurdistan Region's referendum on independence from Iraq. (Photo: AFP)
A woman holds a Kurdistan flag in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishlo as people turn out on Sept. 26, 2017, to support the Kurdistan Region's referendum on independence from Iraq. (Photo: AFP)

Erdogan said he would raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a one-day trip to Moscow on Wednesday. The two leaders, backing opposing sides in Syria, are coordinating their next moves after the US leaves the war-torn country.

He once again promised to take control of the Kurdish-allied town of Manbij in Syria where an ISIS-claimed attack recently killed four Americans, including soldiers, five members of Kurdish-led forces, and 10 civilians.

“We shall give Manbij back to its rightful owners,” Erdogan declared, using a line he employed during last year’s Russian-approved Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region of Afrin in northwestern Syria that later saw the displacement of over 150,000 locals and a campaign of Arabization under his watch.

Turkish officials have condemned Kurdish attempts to reach a political settlement with the Syrian regime aimed at preserving a degree of autonomy after the US leaves.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters last week that Syrian territorial integrity was of paramount importance to Turkey which was a “guarantor” to Syria’s unity as his office issued a statement saying any Syrian army movement into Kurdish-held areas with the consent of the YPG was a “destabilizing act.”

Turkish leaders, including Erdogan, all said they would be in charge of a “safe zone” of up to 20 miles deep into Syrian territory.

Back in 2015, at the height of the conflict with the Islamic State and Kurdish military gains, the Turkish leader said it would be “impossible for us to accept a Northern Syria after Northern Iraq.”

In 2017, Erdogan was at the forefront of international pressure and threats against the Kurdistan Region as an overwhelming majority of 93 percent voted for secession from Iraq in an independence referendum.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany