President Obama and Turkish President Erdogan
WASHINGTON – There has been mounting concern over the lack of participation by Turkey – a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – in the U.S.-led coalition to attack ISIS, but the reason for holding back has become more apparent.
At first, Turkey did not take action because ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, was holding hostage 49 its diplomats who were captured when ISIS blitzkrieged into Iraq from Syria last June and took over the city of Mosul.
However, the diplomats were released under mysterious circumstances. ISIS says they were exchanged for 180 ISIS fighters, but Turkish officials will neither confirm nor deny the claim.
At the recent Paris meeting of Western powers to discuss how to defeat ISIS, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made clear that Turkey’s first priority wasn’t the elimination of ISIS but to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to informed sources, Cavusoglu charged Assad was responsible for the creation of ISIS. The only way to eliminate the extremist Sunni jihadist group, he said, was to eliminate its root causes, citing the need for an all-inclusive government in Iraq and the toppling of Assad as necessary priorities.
In addition, Turkey has been looking to ISIS to take care of another problem sources say is more critical to Ankara than the Sunni jihadist group. The concern centers around the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which historically has sought a portion of the country to form the independent country of Kurdistan.
The Kurds have sought to carve out their own country from the eastern portion of Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq and northwestern Iran.
PKK members have been leaving Turkey to join Kurds in Iraq to fight ISIS, which seeks to take over its territory and accompanying oil production and refineries, especially around Kirkuk.
Sources say the Turks believe the coalition against ISIS not only will bestow new legitimacy on Assad but will empower the PKK as part of the coalition.
The U.S. has begun to provide weapons to the Iraqi Kurds to fight ISIS and defend its territory and assets, a development causing strain in U.S.-Turkish relations.
There are some unconfirmed reports that Turkey has been providing weapons to ISIS to fight the Kurds. One report said that a train from Turkey had carried ammunition and weapons to ISIS to besiege the city of Kobane, a Kurdish town near Aleppo, Syria. To date, however, Ankara hasn’t denied such a claim.
In view of Ankara’s continued war with the PKK, Cemil Bayik, a top PKK commander, said the Turkish government has “eliminated” conditions of a mutually observed 18-month cease-fire. As a consequence, it would “step up its struggle in every area and by all possible means.”
If that were to occur, Ankara could look to ISIS to help eliminate its PKK problem.
“What has emerged is that Turkey is continuing its relations with Daesh and that Turkey will not solve the Kurdish problem in the north,” Bayik told Al-Monitor in an interview.
Daesh is the acronym for ISIS in Arabic.
Bayik said a Turkey “that supports Daesh’s attacks against Kobane, that seeks to depopulate Kobane and lobbies for the establishment of a buffer zone cannot sever its ties with Daesh.”
“Because if it did so, Daesh would expose all of Turkey’s dirty laundry, and document the links between them,” he explained.
Written by F. MICHAEL MALOOF
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