Turkey threat to Iraq and Syria: Rhetorical or practical?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned that his army would engage in military action against Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

LOS ANGELES, United States (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned that his army would engage in military action against Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

“We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said during a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, Turkey.

“We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of the flies,” he added, mimicking Trump’s rhetoric in using the “swamp” metaphor.

Last week, Erdogan appointed three new leaders of Turkey’s army, air force, and navy.

Turkish forces entered northern Syria last year to snatch territory from IS, while also cutting off Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria from Afrin, a Kurdish pocket further west.

The move prevented Kurds from gaining control of nearly the entire Syrian border with Turkey.

Ankara fears Kurdish gains in northern Syria would encourage its Kurdish population to do the same in southern parts of Turkey.

“We will make new important moves soon,” Erdogan said regarding recent clashes with Kurdish forces near Afrin.



It does not seem like a military action in Syrian Kurdistan would be successful if launched. Turkey lost much of its military power after the 2016 botched coup attempt and the purge that followed.

Moreover, Turkish army advances in the al-Bab were noticeably slow and took the lives of 47 Turkish soldiers.

On the other hand, the Kurdish Syrian army has successfully advanced in Raqqa operation and on Tuesday received a new batch of weapons and military equipment.

Some analysts and officials suggest Turkey's new employments were “partly aimed at preparing for any campaign against the YPG,” Reuters reported.

Others argue Erdogan's words are a means to deviate attention from Turkey's weaknesses and failures.

“I believe that Turkey will continue with such rhetoric to shore up his nationalist base and to shift the conversation away from domestic debates that undermine him,” said journalist Ambrin Zaman.

“I do not believe Turkey will stage any kind of a large scale invasion of Afrin in the immediate future or that Russia would agree with that,” she added, admitting that Russia would want to leverage the threat of Turkish aggression.

Russia likes "to extract concessions from YPG including to allow the regime to move into some of the territories it holds and possibly even to influence its future actions in eastern Syria," she told Kurdistan 24.



Analyst Hemn Seyedi told Kurdistan 24 that it would be very challenging for Turkey to follow simultaneous operations in Iraq and Syria. 

In addition, Turkey has almost lost its spring and summer window of opportunity, which is more suitable for launching a new attack in Qandil, Seyedi said, adding that the legitimacy of Turkey's operation against PKK is now being questioned in the international community, especially the European left. 

Zaman echoed the statement that the threats are limited to words and that it is not in Turkey's interest to launch an attack on Kurdistan Region.

Turkey's actions are what count, not its words. The oil pipeline is running the Khabur border gate remains open, Zaman said.

As for Syria, Seyedi believes the scope of the operation and the degree of Kurds’ resistance would determine the future.

If the plan is to attack the strategic cities of Kobani and Afrin, the Turkish army will face direct US/Russian reactions.If it is limited, however, to small towns around Jarablus or al- Bab or the other areas between Kobani and Afrin like Tel Rifaat, it might just lead to clashes with Kurdish forces, though a happy-ending cannot be guaranteed, Seyedi said.

He believes the US would not easily give up on its new-found reliable ally in Syria, i.e. the Kurds.

To Turkey's dismay, the US has refused to list the People's Protection Unit (YPG) as a terrorist group despite its ties to the extremist-designated Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging a decades-long guerilla warfare in Turkey over greater Kurdish rights.

The US needs a trustworthy regional ally, and the Kurds were not its first and best option at the beginning, Seyedi said, noting that after Turkey completely disappointed the US, the coalition had to find an alternative.

In 2014, Turkey failed to protect the Kurdistan Region when the Islamic State (IS) advanced on the borders. Later in the same year, Erdogan again failed the US administration when its army reportedly handed American weapons to the IS members.

Even in the last year, the Euphrates Shield Operation for which the US provided full air support when the Turkish army invaded Jarabulus. But once the Turks turned their weapons towards the Kurds, the Americans ended their support, Seyedi said.

Hence, it is currently in America's interest to keep a strong and reliable ally in a country where its rival, Russia, exerts significant influence.



Editing by G.H. Renaud