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Saudi, Iranian motives in Mosul

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The Iraqi forces reached the eastern bank of the Tigris River on January 8, 2016 as the Mosul offensive entered in the second phase on December 29, 2016. Just a week earlier, the French President Francois Holland said on January 2, 2017 in Baghdad that it would likely take weeks to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State. Whenever the liberation comes to life, it would hardly mean a foreseeable end to violent extremism and sectarian hostility in Iraq.

The Mosul offensive showcases that political rivalry and sectarian hostility particularly between the regional powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia have been contributing to the longevity of religious extremism in Iraq and complicates the fight against the ISIS. So, what are the Iranian and Saudi interests in Mosul? What are the objectives that they seek there?

Iran and Saudi Arabia seeks a bigger role in Mosul in order to ensure a better position to influence the government in Baghdad as well as that in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomy. ISIS initiated its self-proclaimed caliphate from Al-Anbar, the largest Iraqi province and located on the Iraqi-Saudi border, which is no accident. The area is populated by Sunni Iraqis dissatisfied with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The rise and subsequent advance of ISIS was interpreted as an attack on the authority of the Shiite-led government, and Iraqi unity overall. Iranian support was inevitable for a Shiite government facing a growing Sunni threat. Saudi Arabia regarded the sectarian conflict in Iraq as a means to preserving a Sunni sphere of influence. The Independent described the Saudi role as “supporting the anti-Shia jihad”.

Mosul has become particularly important for each actor, as Iraq’s second largest city, because of its considerable oil fields, and location close to the nexus of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and the Kurdish autonomy. Iraq is divided on three ethno-sectarian spheres – Kurdistan, Sunni Iraq and Shiite Iraq. Sunni and Shiite Iraq are somewhat more nebulous. Mosul will play an important role for Iran and Saudi Arabia as a crucial element in defining sectarian borders in Iraq.

The ongoing Mosul operation has impacted the relationship between Iran’s Shiite militias, and Saudi Arabia’s own Sunni proxy groups, including purportedly, ISIS itself. Because of the historical significance and large Sunni population of Mosul, Saudi Arabia may consider it a de facto capital for Sunni influence in Iraq. Iran similarly values Mosul because of its geostrategic significance in Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria. Here again, Iranian and Saudi goals conflict as they both see Mosul as crucial to region-wide Shiite and Sunni spheres, respectively.

Mosul is also vital for land access to Syria for both Iranians and Saudis. From Saudi perspective, Sunni control of Mosul means fettering Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, which would potentially transform Iran’s presence in the Arab lands. The closest portion of Iranian-Iraqi border is under control of the Iraqi Kurdistan. So, the land route from Iran to Syria region has become much extended as it has to bypass Kurdistan-controlled parts of the Iraqi-Iranian border. Mosul would present the shortest route from Iran.

Another motivation for Iran in Mosul arises from its domestic consideration. The Kurdish autonomy in Iraq borders Iran for hundreds of miles. There are so-called informal Syrian Kurdistan, Turkish Kurdistan, and Iranian Kurdistan alongside with Iraqi Kurdistan. For Iran, the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq may represent a precedent for millions of Iranian Kurds, who are the third largest ethnicity in Iran after Persians and Azerbaijani Turks. Therefore, Iran eyes Mosul as leverage to influence Iraqi Kurdistan.

Moreover, Iran is not interested in federalization of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions because Iran itself is very diverse on ethnic and sectarian lines. Such federalization or decentralization might encourage a nightmare scenario for Tehran. Nevertheless, division of Iraq on ethnic-sectarian lines becomes increasingly inevitable. This represents another drive for Iranians to get as much as possible from Mosul.

Although Kurdistan is a Sunni-majority region, its relations with Saudi Arabia are much ambiguous and uneasy. So, Mosul is viewed also by Saudis as good leverage to influence Iraqi Kurds’ relations with Iran. Major Saudi interest is to create a kind of Sunni Arab buffer zone between Iran and Saudi Arabia including Mosul as essential to that. Also in case Iraq becomes federalized, Saudis would regard it as a reliable Sunni ally within that federation.

The domestic politics of both Iran and Saudi Arabia also has to do with proxies between the two nations. To secure domestic immunity against any external influence of secular, democratic or sectarian nature, they instrumentalize Sunni and Shiite ideologies respectively to maintain national unity and distract populations from domestic problems.

For the Iraqi state, Saudi and Iranian instrumentalization of the fight against ISIS in Mosul may present a bigger challenge than does ISIS itself. The defeat of ISIS simply will not end the competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia and related sectarian groups inside Iraq. The interests of Iran and Saudi Arabia will persist.

This may facilitate the rise of other ISIS-like groups. Just as the post-Al-Qaeda period gave rise to the ISIS period, it is likely that the post-ISIS Iraq will be another turbulent period defined by transnational extremism, which might eventually penetrate into Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which are prone to ethnic and sectarian divisions.

Therefore, Riyadh and Tehran should consider rather reforming their respective domestic political systems than engaging in permanent proxies. Otherwise, not only a sustainable peace will remain out of reach for Iraq, but also Saudi Arabia and Iran themselves might be caught in a myriad of instability and tumultuous processes within their own borders.

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Middle East

What is the public sphere today in Turkey?

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The concept of public sphere, which was started to be examined in Europe in the 1960s, has different meanings according to different perspectives, as a definite definition cannot be made today, and this situation creates important discussion topics about the use of such spaces.

Long debated the definition of public space in Europe, in Turkey also began to affect 1980”l year. After the 1980 coup, some communities, which were kept out of sight, fearing that the Republic project would be harmed, demanded the recognition of their ethnic and cultural identities. Thus the concept of the public sphere in Turkey, especially since the early 1990s to be addressed in various academic publications, use and began to discuss political issues.

Especially in the past years, the public sphere debates on the headscarf issue were discussed from various angles. The debate started with Prime Minister Erdogan’s criticism of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who did not invite his wife to a NATO dinner, saying “Dolmabahçe is not a public space”, and the President of the Council of Higher Education, Prof.Dr. Erdoğan Teziç; He responded by emphasizing that the public sphere is not a “ geographical definition ” but a functional concept.

Before defining the public sphere, the understanding that shows that the definition of space in the Ottoman Empire was shaped as less private, private, very private and very very private is still one of the biggest reasons for the definition of the public sphere. While expressing, it reminds that he entered the Ottoman literature in a different way in the 19th century. Thinkers who indicate the association of the public sphere with the state in general express it as the sphere that is related to the state, not the “public”. “When you say ‘public’, the state comes to mind immediately; We mean something like government administration, its organs, organizations, officials, or activities, an official domain that is owned or run under state control. However, as Habermas said, the public sphere is above all the sphere in which the public opinion is formed in our social life ”.

As citizens of the city, we observe that some projects have spread to the spaces defined as public space due to the fact that today’s public space and public space concepts have not been defined precisely and construction activities have increased due to the anxiety of rent.

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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