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Kurdish Referendum: More Military Threats to Independent Kurdistan



Despite the opposition of the central government in Baghdad, Kurdish political parties agreed to hold a referendum in the region on September 25th, 2017. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said that the referendum includes disputed areas, such as oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which is claimed by the Kurds and Baghdad.

Unquestionably, there will be some serious security and military threats that the KRG will not able to handle on their own. This piece details the security threats (in classical term military threats). So, the question in everybody’s mind these days is what will be the military threats to Iraqi Kurdistan if the region announces its independence?

MPF and Independent Kurdistan

Iran is pursuing a policy of strengthening its influence and interests in other countries, relying on non-governmental actors after the success of the Hezbollah support experiment, which is now in control of the Lebanese decisions. This type of dependence on governmental and non-governmental organizations are prevalent in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, where Iran officially supports groups such as Ansar Allah led by Abdul Malik al-Houthi, which seized control of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in late September 2014, and dozens of Iraqi militias active in both Syria and Iraq, such as Asaib Ah Al-Badr, Saraya al-Kharasani, and other Shiite groups operating under the cover of the People’s Mobilization Forces (MPF). Most of the Shiite militias and factions were formed by local volunteers under the PMF. Even though the Iraqi Parliament acknowledged PMF as a legal force, Abadi is too weak to take on the militias directly.  

The MPF objective encompasses eliminating terrorism in Iraq and in the region, to protecting the regime and the political process in Iraq, as per Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, who is the deputy chairman of MPF Committee. Shia militants are concerned with protecting the regime and the political process, which is an uncharted territory for the PMF. It is an explicit declaration of the possibility of turning it into a sensitive and dangerous situation. The PMF are a great danger, but their threat is limited to certain (disputed) areas. These militants have fought to turn Iraq into a Shiite state that answer to the mullahs in Tehran. The next battle for Iraqi Shiite forces is to guarantee the territorial integrity of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, so that Iran (and its allies) can move unhindered throughout these regions. The partition of Iraq is the redline for Tehran, and in the case of a referendum and declaration of independence of northern Iraq, the PMF will be mobilized against the KRG. Some believes that the threat of war by the MPF against KRG arises not from the referendum, but from the disputed areas will be included in the upcoming referendum. Nonetheless, several indicators show that PMF will fuel the sectarian situation already present in Iraqi society, and will increase its division, which will inevitably lead to a new civil war and security threats aimed at the Kurdish entity. The war already took place in the disputed areas (Tuz Khurmatu) between Kurdish forces and MPF, after intervention in those areas by Peshmarga forces.   

Arming Minorities in Disputed Areas

The Iraqi parliament voted earlier in favor of the PMF as an official formation and part of the Iraqi armed forces, authorizing them to enter any part of the country to liberate them from terrorist gangs, maintain security in other areas, and defend it against any potential threat. This grants them the flexibility to move into areas that are under the control of the Iraqi army prior to the arrival of ISIS, particularly the disputed areas between the Baghdad and Erbil. It is expected that the MPF would encircle the borders of the Kurdish Region via the exploitation and arming of minorities, particularly Shia Turkmen, who have sought PMF patronage to increase their local autonomy. It is very vital that the road be closed for the plan to work.

Tensions between the Shiite popular crowd and the Kurdish peshmerga already reached unprecedented levels. Clashes erupted in Tuz Kurmatu after the attack on the headquarters of the Peshmerga forces in town, resulting in casualties on both sides. Some factions of the PMF are also arming the tribes of Tuz Khurmato following recent security developments, which began to widen through the mutual targeting of the Peshmerga and civilians. The PMF in the Tuz will not stay long, but arming the tribes will prevent the Peshmerga from coming back to Tuz to create tensions.

Tensions between Shiite militias and Kurds is not only prevalent in Tuz Khirramato district south of Kirkuk, but the crowd is also taking advantage of the battle of Mosul and use it as a cover to approach the borders of the Kurdistan region, as per their earlier threats. Recently, there was a warning that an armed conflict might erupt between both sides over disagreements on the security of the Sinjar area in Nineveh province.  The crowd entering Sinjar, west of Mosul, could very well lead to a war. The leader of the PMF, Jawad Talibawi, already launched an attack on the Peshmerga, and explained that removing them from Nineveh will be easier than expelling ISIS. He also called for the need to subject the entire territory of Iraq to the control of the state, threatening to use force against the Peshmerga in the event of “non-compliance” to the orders of Abadi. Recently, dozens of Yazidis Peshmerga, including military officials who left their ranks and joined the PMF, said that they expect the MPF to help the Yezidis return to their areas and provide the necessary assistance because they are Iraqi forces, and we must respect them as we respect any other fighting force.

Recruiting Kurdish Citizen

The economic situation that the region is going through due to its reduced budget from the central government in Baghdad and the drop in oil prices resulted in increased unemployment; which provided a good environment for PMF to attract the people of the region to join its ranks and promote its agenda, which differs from the one espoused by Baghdad. Those who register will receive 1,100,000 Iraqi dinars per month, and if they have families, they will earn 250,000 dinars more, and if killed, will be considered martyrs, and their families will be granted 15 million Iraqi dinars and a piece of land. Mohammed al-Bayati, the official of the northern section of the PMF, admitted that “a small number” of the region’s citizens and figures had joined them. Some were told that they could form military regiments. Al-Bayati also pointed out that “The Kurds who join the popular mobilization are deployed on the border line of the disputed areas of Kirkuk and Khanaqin because we need them there”.  The registration of volunteers from the Kurdistan region into the ranks of the PMF in the Kurdistan region is reminiscent of the previous regime, which used volunteers to fight Kurdish forces.

In addition, the Iraqi government can further threaten the Kurdish region by preventing the passage of arms, weapons, and ammunition to the KGR, and especially to those partaking in the international coalition against ISIS. Even the United States does not prefer to send direct military assistance to the KRG. The central government may try to sign a security agreement with neighboring countries (Iran and Turkey) to allow for the direct intervention in Iraq through their respective military forces, and the establishment of bases in northern Iraq. Baghdad has been unable to control the regions bordering both countries. On July 23rd, 2017, Iran and Iraq signed a military agreement to step up military cooperation, which also includes border security, logistical, and training support. Despite their disputes, the Iraqi government will take a parallel step with Turkey to militarily contain Iraqi Kurdistan.

In terms of difficulties of referendum, the most prominent is the rejection of the Shiites and Sunnis for independence of the region. The public opinions of Iraqi Arabs (Shiites and Sunnis) have rejected the partition of the country; they have not even welcome federalism. The disputed areas are inhabited by a mixture of Sunnis Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds. The Arab (even Turkmen) nationalist could probably form semi-military organizations to fight Kurdish forces, compelling the Kurds to leave, even abducting and killing them in areas beyond the control of KRG. For instance; after announcing holding referendum in September 2017, the citizens of the Failli Kurds are currently being exposed to various types of threats of killing, displacement, and looting in some areas.

Externally, the military threats are as serious internally as it is externally. The neighboring countries will expose military threats to the Kurdistan region. Iranian and Turkish planes and artillery have constantly bombed border villages in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, targeting elements and positions of PJAK and PKK, YPG, and SDF in northern Iraq, including Sinjar.

The neighboring countries – particularly Iran; might try to create and bring Jihadist to border regions between Kurdistan and Iran in order to destabilize the region.  Ansar al-Islam fi Kurdistan (Jund al-Islam) bases were in and around the villages of Biyara and Tawela, which lied northeast of the town of Halabja in the Hawraman region of Sulaimaniya province bordering Iran. The PUK claims that dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters joined Ansar Al-Islam in Iraq after 9/11 attacks, with as many as 57 “Arab Afghan” fighters entering Kurdistan via Iran. Taken together with credible reports of the return of some Ansar al-Islam fighters to Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran suggest that these fighters have received at least limited support from Iranian sources. It is therefore not surprising that the Iranian government is repeating their previous endeavor when dealing with the Kurdish state. Similarly, Turkey might use Turkmen in Kirkuk and other areas to destabilize the security situation in the Kurdistan region and disputed areas by arming and mobilizing them.

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Middle East

The Coming Long-Planned Middle East War

Sondoss Al Asaad



Recently, a mounting risk of conflict between Hezbollah and the Zionist enemy, on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, has given fresh impetus against the axis of resistance by the tri-alliance rhetoric; i.e. the Zionists, the Saudis and the American. Various political and military analysts have concluded that a conflict with the Lebanese resistance; Hezbollah- a key ally fighting against the Takfiris; along with Iran and the Syrian regime, is becoming increasingly likely.

In November 2017, Lebanon’s army Chief Commander General Joseph Aoun said, “Troops should be ready to thwart any attempt to exploit the current circumstances for stirring strife as the exceptional political situation that Lebanon is going through requires you to exercise the highest levels of awareness.” The Zionists frequently threats that Lebanon could be subjected to a huge aerial bombardment in the opening days of a campaign with civilian casualties highly probable. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Zionist prime minister, has threatened that his hostile forces would intervene rather than allowing the resistance to establish its position on the Northern borders.

At a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, on 21 March 2018, War Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that the possibility of conflict is breaking out. He said that the Zionist soldiers may have to operate deep in Lebanese territory and manoeuvre on the ground on the battlefield if war breaks out, warning about Hezbollah’s attempts to arm itself with precision missiles produced in Lebanon. Lieberman also suggested in October, that the Lebanese military could also be considered an enemy combatant as it had become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.  He stated, “Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the manoeuvres of their allies who sit in Riyadh.”

The Syrian conflict has reached a very advanced phase as Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Hezbollah have proven to be more politically and militarily harmonious than at any time. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran primarily funds resistance movements that aim at dismantling the Zionist illegal entity and its tools, i.e. Takfiri terrorist groups. Unequivocally, the Zionists recognise that Hezbollah has emerged from the Syrian war as a battle-hardened and the most resilient military actor in the Arab region, with highly trained fighters and reservists. Further, its missiles system has been heavily resupplied, in spite of dozens of airstrikes on its convoys and depots.

Amid these threats, the Saudi dirty conspiracies against the Resistance axis has revealed its reckless and heinous policy regarding Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The military commentator of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel reported, “If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides [Israel and Hezbollah], this becomes a tangible danger.” Additionally, the former US ambassador to the Zionist entity Dan Shapiro warned, “It is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon – an Israeli-Hezbollah war.”

Due to the Saudi massive failure in Yemen and the resistance’s great victories, Riyadh has shifted its focus on Lebanon. In one of his influential speeches, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has urged the Saudis to find realistic goals regarding Lebanon. He mocked the Saudi coward threats to eradicate the resistance through encouraging Israel to wage the war. Sayyed Nasrallah has asserted that any future conflict could take place inside the occupied Palestinian territory. He said, “There will be no place that is out of reach of the rockets of the resistance.”

Besides, the possibility that an offensive against Syria and Lebanon might take place would be a direct result of Washington’s failure to oust the brave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their idiot plan was the fragmentation of Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states into smaller units. In the meantime, the Saudis continue their devastating war on Yemen, backed by Trump’s administration, which is also negotiating an arms deal worth billions to take an aggressive stance towards Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Iran. Further, the Zionists have expanded their illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, at unprecedented levels.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. essential objective is eliminating the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance. In addition, they aim to re-establish themselves as the hegemonic power in the Middle East, with absolute control over the natural resources including oil, gas and water. They understand that defeating Hezbollah would be unmanageable; therefore, they are scarcely exerting effort to reduce the resistance military capabilities with the possibility that the U.S. troops may coordinate targets with the Zionist War Forces and join the war through Syria.

Saudi Arabia dreams to remain a vassal state with unconventional political leverage over its neighbours. However, if it foolishly decides to wage an attack against Iran, the tyrant rulers of Bani Saud will inevitably collapse [Bani Saud as the Arabic use of ‘Al’ is an honourable title of a legitimate dynasty, such as the household of Prophet Mohammad (PBU’em); Al-Hashem]. Earlier this year, the Saudis have abruptly cut economical aids to the Lebanese government merely because it had refused to condemn ‘attacks’ on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Indeed, the Saudis spearheaded efforts to get the Persian Gulf states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The brutal conspiracy against Syria has so far resulted in nearly half a million dead, six million internally displaced, and over five million refugees, an overwhelming percentage of whom have now spent years in neighbouring countries. The event of 10 February 2018 underscored the resistance axis military capabilities, as when the Syrian antiaircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16, the first Zionist fighter to be shot down in decades. Hezbollah has greatly enhanced its deterrence capabilities and fighting skills, for this reason, the Zionists would only fight a war to weaken Hezbollah, which is seemingly feasible.

Obviously, the war is predictable but inevitably, it is not going to be imminent. The enemy is aware that Hezbollah is part of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards; an army of 200,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Further, Hezbollah has gained advanced weapons and experienced fighters and has access to 150,000 rockets; compared to the 33,000 in 2006. In addition, the resistance has stockpiled quality weapons and has built factories that can convert rockets to missiles, which could seriously make any war very costly.

It is worthy to mention that Hezbollah keenly understands that the Zionist enemy is not the same as it was in 2006. The Zionists’ so-called ‘Iron Dome’ air defence network is more sophisticated. This too means that the efficiency of the resistance rockets is questionable and need to be more advanced. Besides, the sectarian rifts and political conflicts in the region would make it difficult for the resistance masses to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria, whenever a war would kick off. During the previous wars, nearly 1 million Lebanese fled the country. Meanwhile, Lebanon hosts 2 million Syrian refugees, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times report. An influx of additional refugees would be quite serious as the current regional status-quo is problematic.

Hezbollah has grown considerably stronger since the 2006 Second Lebanon hostile War. Following the battle of Qusayr, in Syria, the resistance has changed its strategies from insurgency to counterinsurgency in order to weaken the Saudi backed terrorists. Per its doctrine and as Sayyed Nasrallah frequently maintains, “As long as there is a missile that is fired from Lebanon and targets the Zionists, as long as there is one fighter who fires his rifle, as long as there is someone who plants a bomb against the Israelis.”

For their part, the Zionists have made it clear that their intentions are to hit the resistance “in the most muscular way possible.” The enemy seeks to invade the Lebanese territories in order to damage its political and military infrastructure, which is by no means unprecedented. Historically speaking, the aggressive invasion of southern Lebanon, in 1982; aimed at demolishing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), provides a complete failure and had transformed it into a regular army. During the Lebanese civil war, the PLO established a visible force that fielded heavy weaponry and artillery; however, its forces lacked the mobility that Hezbollah has demonstrated in the subsequent four decades.

In frustration at Hezbollah’s victorious during the 1980s, the Zionist enemy lashed out against the resistance twice. In 1993’s ‘Operation Accountability’ and 1996’s ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’, the enemy attacked Lebanon with an overwhelming air and artillery power. These aggressive wars wrought considerable damage; however, they barely harmed the resistance. The resistance’s heroic elusiveness ensured that the Zionist enemy made no battlefield gains, and Hezbollah continued to fire Katyusha rockets until the thorough victory on 25 May 2000.

In 2006, the enemy Air Forces struck at Hezbollah headquarters and command facilities and bombed Lebanese infrastructure to force the Lebanese government to pressure the resistance into returning their detained soldiers. Three minutes after a missile struck the Zionist naval vessel INS Hanit, which was patrolling off the coast of Beirut, on 14 July 2006, Sayyed Nasrallah announced, “The surprises which I promised you will begin now. Right now, in the midst of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli military warship, which aggressed against our infrastructure and against the houses of the people and civilians. Watch it burn. It will sink and with it dozens of Israeli Zionist soldiers.”

The 1982 invasion aimed at eliminating the PLO; however, it has resulted in the establishment of Hezbollah. Therefore, the reckless Zionists, Americans and Saudi mercenaries should expect that any coming aggression would equivocally bear similar advanced fruit. Hezbollah, after 2006 experience, has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into the enemy’s terrains. The resistance arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads as well as substantial conventional explosives.

The resistance would unquestionably hit Tel Aviv’s military bases and airports. Sayyed Nasrallah has stressed that the resistance fighters would be reinforced by hundreds of thousands of fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within the Zionist occupied territories. The enemy may clearly face attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, which it has not faced since the 1973 war.

However, we should admit that the Zionists are preparing to wage this new war in a more deliberate and calculated manner, in contrast to previous decades when war decisions were a disproportionate response and collective punishment, more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner. As far as the Zionists are concerned, their fundamental objective is that Hezbollah will be eliminated forever; just as the resistance aims at eliminating the Zionist occupation and liberating the occupied territories. For this reason, the enemies are precisely studying and postponing the war as any coming conflict may jeopardise the Zionist and American dreams in the region. On the other hand, meanwhile, Hezbollah is seemingly interested in establishing the great victory against the Saudi backed terrorist in Syria.

Clearly, the Zionist objectives are undermining Hezbollah’s war paradigm and reducing the Iranian influence, which is explicitly impossible because of the Russian presence in the region. The enemy’s infrastructure is not resilient to even a limited missile attack from Hezbollah. The next war will immensely affect the Zionist economy will shrink within a short-time period, which may cause long-term devastating damage to the enemy’s reputation as a key player in the global economy.

Hezbollah is a deeply rooted Lebanese political movement that has significant support in the country. It has gradually become Lebanon’s strongest political and military force, possessing veto power in Lebanon’s cabinet and playing the decisive role in getting President Michel Aoun elected. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has long reminded its enemies that the resistance’s supporters will standstill and fight for their country. In case of an urgent incident on the borders, both sides will regard it as a game-changing or an equation breaking. The Zionist foe would not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from the resistance’s land, sea and air strikes, whether it is going to be entitled as the ‘Third Lebanon War’ or the ‘First Israeli-Iranian War.’

The U.S. policymakers have long declared their intention to resolve resistance movements. In contrast to Obama’s, Trump’s administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region and has already signal led that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy and that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in any conflict, no matter how such a war is conducted. The Zionists, U.S. and Saudi Arabia might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict against Hezbollah and the Iranian targets.

The reckless Zionist-desired Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman appears willing to take up the fight. This Saudi Zionist boy has persistently asserted that Saudi Arabia’s modernisation requires an embrace of “moderate Islam,” i.e. an American Islam. As far as bin Salman is concerned, Iran is a major threat and the only way to surpass the dispute in the Middle East is through openly normalising harmonious ties with the Zionist enemy. Military analysts have assessed that the Palestinian resistance would likewise partake in the confrontation. Along with Hezbollah, the duo major Palestinian resistance organisations; Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement, funded and backed by Iran, are estimated to have thousands of fighters, significant stockpiles of rockets, mortar shells, and attack tunnels, some of which reach the occupied terrains and others that are designed for warfare inside the coastal enclave.

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Middle East

Ahed Tamimi, the Detained Heroine

Sondoss Al Asaad



Ahed Tamimi has accepted a plea deal under which she will serve eight months in prison, during a closed-door hearing but must still be approved by the military court. Under the deal, offered by the military prosecution on 21 March 2018, Ahed Tamimi is expected to plead guilty to four charges, including assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers. Gaby Lasky, her lawyer, said the sentence would include four months already served and a fine of 5,000 shekels (£1,017).

Since her early years, Ahed Tamimi, 17 years old detained teenager has become an international poster girl in her home village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank where regular Palestinian protests take place against settlement encroachment. In 2012, a widely seen photo of 12-year-old Ahed, then, confronting an Israeli soldier earned her recognition. Another image went viral, in 2015, after she was photographed kicking and biting an Israeli soldier who was choking her brother Mohammed.

Palestinians hail Ahed Tamimi as a hero for kicking a heavily armed soldier who slapped her first and was illegally on her doorstep and in an illegal occupation of her country. On 15 December 2017, Ahed’s confrontation went viral was streamed on Facebook. In the footage, Ahed kicks one soldier and slaps his face, and threatens to punch the other, after they stormed into her house and shot her fifteen-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi who was severely wounded by a rubber bullet that entered his brain.

The Tamimis are at the forefront of regular protests, a frequent scene of demonstrations, they assert that a part of the Nabi Saleh’s land was confiscated and given to a nearby Israeli settlement. The enemy’s narrative alleged that the Tamimis had given their consent to Palestinians to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers from their home and that the soldiers were present outside at the time to remove the rioters from the house.

After the shooting, the West Bank village erupted in anger and began throwing stones at the Zionists, who attempted to put a stop to the unrest by patrolling at the site of a home where protesters were gathered. This aroused the anger of Ahed who ran outside her home and confronted two Israeli soldiers demanding that they leave the family property.

The soldiers’ restraint and refusal to act aroused anger among Israelis, as a result, the Zionists prepared a raid on the Tamimi residence, the next morning. In December 2017, the Tamimis woke up with a shock at about 3 a.m. to the noise of the Israeli forces banging on their front door and screaming. Ahed’s father, Bassem, opened the door for the soldiers, who pushed him aside and trooped into the house. At least 30 soldiers raided the house to arrest Ahed, without giving any reasons. They went rifling through the household leaving behind a mess and confiscated the family’s electronic possessing.

Ahed’s father is a prominent Palestinian activist since 2009, who successfully broadcasted the Palestinian peaceful protests in social media. He strongly believes that Ahed’s rights are being infringed and her trial should not take place,’ as the Zionist entity has no respect for international law and acts with impunity because of its ‘power’. He said, ‘There is nothing more provocative than Israel’s occupation [of Palestine]…so the normal reaction is to resist.’

Amnesty International has called for an immediate release of Ahed Tamimi, saying ‘the arrest of a child must be used only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and Africa have stressed, ‘As an unarmed girl, Ahed posed no threat during the altercation with the two Israeli soldiers who were heavily armed and wearing protective clothing.’ Besides, Human Rights Watch has emphasised that Ahed’s pre-trial detention is both a violation of international law and unnecessary and that ‘Israel’s military justice system, which detains hundreds of Palestinian children every year, is incapable of respecting children’s rights.

Within the Zionist entity, there are voices demanding to release Ahed. Some of Israel’s critics have said the case epitomises the Zionist brutal approach, half a century after its forces captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised Israeli’s actions, while the European Union has expressed concern over Israel’s detention of minors, including Ahed Tamimi.

Luisa Morgantini, the former vice president of the European Parliament said that the injustice of the Israeli occupation is so great that one cannot remain silent. Additionally, Alistair Burt, UK Minister of state for the Middle East at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said, ‘The truth is the soldiers shouldn’t have been there and the young woman shouldn’t have needed to do what she did.’

An online petition organised by Ahed’s father calling for her release has gathered 1.7m signatures. Twenty-seven American cultural figures have signed the petition including, Actors Danny Glover and Rosario Dawson, novelist Alice Walker, famed activist Angela Davis and philosopher Cornel West. The petition explicitly relates Tamimi’s fate to the children of immigrants and communities of colour who face police brutality in the United States.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli nongovernmental organisation, a parent has the right to accompany their child during an interrogation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ahed Tamimi has gone on trial before Ofer military court, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, which has been delayed several times. This postponing of the trial aims at holding Ahed for so long until she is broken down psychologically to the point that she would agree to sign a plea sheet.

On 13 February 2018, she arrived at the military courtroom escorted by Israeli security personnel, in a prison jumpsuit with her hands and feet in shackles. She appeared calm, smiling and flashing the ‘V for victory’ sign at photographers. Her father Bassem Tamimi waved to her from the audience, yelling out ‘stay strong’.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Ahed Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison, after the Ofer Military Court approved a plea bargain in which she allegedlyconfessed to ‘aggravated assault of a Zionist soldier, incitement to violence and disrupting soldiers on two other occasions.’

Gaby Lasky, Ahed’s Israeli lawyer, dismissed arguments that the continuous detention would violate Ahed’s rights as a minor and concluded she would pose a danger if released on bail. She said that although Ahed is only 17-years-old, ‘the court believes that her indictment is enough to keep her in detention until the end of the trial’. Lasky said she argued that the trial could not move forward because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its court system there is illegal.

UN experts expressed concern that Ahed’s place of detention, Hasharon prison, was in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that the deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power, or to that of any other country, is prohibited regardless of the motive. They expressed that the case of Ahed violates the fundamental legal guarantee to have access to counsel during interrogation.

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Middle East

A Lone Wolf in Afrin

Timur Akhmetov



The International Reaction to Turkey’s Military Campaign in Afrin

Despite numerous efforts by the Turkish government to explain its concerns over the threats PYD/PKK represent for Turkish national security, Ankara’s western partners and international players showed little support for the military operation in Afrin. On January 25, US President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert stated that Washington would prefer Turkey to abstain from direct intrusion in Syria and instead focus on “long-term strategic goals” like ending Syria’s war. The major U.S. concern, allegedly, was that deeper Turkish involvement against Kurdish-controlled elements would spoil the power balance and risk major escalation with the participation of U.S. troops.

On January 28, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, when asked about the Alliance’s official position on the “Olive Branch” operation, responded by saying that even though Turkey has a right to self defence, it is important to pursue national security objectives in a proportionate and measured way, implying that military actions may contribute to the destabilization of Western-led efforts in Syria.

On January 29, UN General Secretary Spokesman Stephane Dujarric suggested that the Turkish military operation had led to losses among local civilians in Afrin, directly challenging Turkish official statements, particularly the claims of the Turkish General Staff about the absence of civilian casualties, despite the reports that the operation is complicated by instances when PYD fighters are spotted in civil clothes.

In early February, officials from the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), while acknowledging Turkey’s right to protect its borders, criticized a large-scale crackdown by the Turkish state authorities on anti-war campaigners and dissenters who demanded a quick end to the Turkish army’s military involvement in a foreign country. Western officials underlined that security concerns should not lead to disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, abuse of the state’s imperfect anti-terrorism laws, and detainment of people on charges of terrorist propaganda due to social media posts.

In late February, French officials, in several separate initiatives, called on the Turkish government to respect UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the Syrian ceasefire, spare civilian lives in Afrin and ensure the supply of humanitarian aid to the region. On February 26, in a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Emmanuel Macron stressed that the ceasefire covered all Syrian territory, including Afrin, and must be put into effect everywhere and by everyone without delay, implying that the PYD shouldn’t be targeted by Turkish forces.

On a regional level as well, the Turkish military operation was received negatively. On January 21, an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry described the operation as a serious threat to Syria’s national sovereignty, while Turkish efforts were said to hamper plans to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis and combat terrorism.

Another regional actor, Iraq, whose principal position has been historically important in Turkey’s fight against the PKK insurgency in the Qandil Mountains along the northern border regions of Iraq, linked the operation in Afrin with its own efforts to solve the problem of Turkey’s military presence in Iraq. On February 20, Baghdad issued a statement where it once again called upon Turkey to evict its Turkish base and compromise with the country, whose claims have been backed multiple times by the Arab league. Less critical voices were also heard from the Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, which Turkey has been supporting since the diplomatic crisis broke out last year.

The regional allies of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, stated that Turkish security concerns can be understood, though the sides must exert self-restraint and avoid turning the Afrin canton into another source of instability. On February 19, Iranian minister of foreign affairs Javad Zarif stated that even though Tehran understands the threats Ankara is facing, Turkey should seek other ways to solve security issues, because intrusion into a neighboring country will not provide a tangible solution. The Russian official position emphasized the provocative actions of the US government in Syria, characterized by its building a military presence using Kurdish elements in the SDF, which ultimately provoked Turkey to undertake extreme measures against the PYD elements in Afrin.

Domestic Politics in Turkey and the Olive Branch Operation

From the very beginning of the Olive Branch operation, the Turkish government adopted a hardline approach toward its critics. By the end of January, the Turkish government had ordered the arrest of more than 300 people on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda over social media. Anti-war campaigners and civil society groups faced outright defamation from high-level officials.

The heavy-handed approach of the Turkish officials was not limited to efforts to silence anti-war critics. On February 15, Turkish former Chief of the Staff Ilker Basbug made a statement that the military campaign should not be turned into “material for domestic politics,” suggesting that both the ruling party and opposition should avoid using security matters for political gains, especially to rally the support of the population before the season of critical national elections. The general’s comments were criticized by Turkish President Erdogan.

Meanwhile, major political parties expressed their support for the military campaign in Afrin. Considerable support has also registered among broader layers of Turkish society. According to the MAK polling and survey firm, the level of public support for the operations in late January was stood at 85%.

These conditions contributed to the consolidation of the information environment in Turkey. The trend was further reinforced by the Turkish government’s efforts to tame critical media over the period before the start of the operation). Lack of security and guarantees against arbitrary arrests of journalists, both Turkish and foreign, also contributed to the lack of discussion on the necessity of the military campaign and critical self-reflection on the part of government officials in regards to the anti-PKK fight in previous years.

International Coverage and Comments on the Olive Branch Operation

From the official statements of Western, regional and local players, we can assume that there are several issues that cause criticism of the Turkish military operation in Syrian Afrin. A major problem for the Turkish government is proving the legitimacy of its military invasion of a foreign country. The Turkish government justified the move by invoking the UN Charter provisions that give states certain rights to such acts in cases when national security is under threat and other means of diplomacy fail to solve the issue.

The problems with the justification of the military campaign partly stem from the fact that the Turkish government has not been cooperating with the Syrian government, a legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the UN, to resolve the PKK issue. A further problem was presented in statements declaring that the Syrian PYD is not a terrorist organization and does not present a threat to Turkish security. These claims are supported by the fact that the Turkish government has been in contact with the PYD on several occasions, most famously during the Shah Euphrates Operations in February 2015. Another point supporting the thesis against Ankara’s justification of the military campaign deals with the cooperation between the PYD-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces and the United States of America, a major ally of the Turkish government in security matters and the fight against the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.

Further criticism of the military operations revolves around claims that the move is directed either against the Kurdish population of Afrin or the civilian population of the canton. This thesis is supported by claims that the Turkish government uses paramilitary groups, whose background may be traced to the moderate Islamist Syrian movement. The fact that Free Syrian Army groups are not affiliated with the Turkish government via a legal framework prompted many critics to say that the military campaign could lead to war crimes in Afrin.

Finally, a considerable number of comments critical of the Turkish military operation touch upon the Turkish government’s utilization of the move for domestic political interests. The narrative of a Turkish struggle against Western-supported terrorists in Syria suits the plans of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to consolidate the electorate around nationalist slogans and the idea of a strong ruler at the helm of Turkey.

The Constraints of Turkish diplomacy

Official Turkish diplomatic efforts since the operations began have been directed at the clarification of Turkey’s concerns to the country’s allies and partners in Syria. The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 16 should be seen in the context of these efforts. The meeting is considered a part of the initiatives to clarify Turkish objectives in Afrin, influence public opinion in the West, and resolve the PKK/PYD issue through diplomatic means. Contacts between Turkey, Russia and Iran have also been serving to mitigate concerns over the military operation in Afrin on the official level. On the local level, the Turkish government approached foreign representatives to explain Ankara’s official position with regards to the PKK in Syria and the security concerns the Turkish government has in light of the military build-up in northern Syria.

On the level of public diplomacy, governmental efforts to clarify the official position and bring the Turkish narrative to the broader international community seem to have failed. The primary reason behind this misfortune is domestic politics, where the Turkish government, through its own actions, contributes to the main theses of the critics of the Olive Branch operation in Afrin. Of particular importance in this context is the use of Ottoman and Islamic narratives in the Turkish media. In the absence of Western journalists in Turkey, and with wide-spread biases around the world, such messages reinforced negative coverage of the military operation. Moreover, the arrests of Kurdish activists and harassment of Kurdish politicians contributed to the narrative that the operation is directed not at the PKK elements in Afrin, but at the Kurdish population per se. In a number of statements, Turkish officials resorted to anti-Western whataboutism without providing objective clarification on the military and defensive necessity of the operation.

The Practical dimension of the Mishandled Diplomatic Efforts

It is important to emphasize that the informational environment and coverage of the military operation in the world is tightly linked to Turkey’s efforts to support counter-terrorism and its own political interests in Syria. Failed attempts to withstand the negative reactions from its regional and global partners may negatively impact Turkey’s ongoing fight with the PKK. First of all, a failure to present the Olive Branch as an operation against the PKK, and not the Kurdish population of northern Syria, contributed to the narrative of the PKK’s sympathizers and large support network in Europe, from which the terrorist organization manages to send financial aid to its headquarters in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, thus influencing its activity against Turkish state. Moreover, as the example of Germany shows, failure to provide a credible narrative for the anti-terrorist operation in Afrin may force the European government to listen to the vocal pro-Kurdish community and impose restrictions on the Turkish government, especially with regards to arms exports.

Negative coverage of Turkish actions in Afrin may hinder Ankara’s efforts to gain a stable foothold in the region as well. With a narrative that the Turkish operation is part of an occupation by Islamists or an Ottoman-inspired Turkish voluntarist government may harm Turkish plans to build legitimate self-governance in the Kurdish-majority area in Afrin. A failure to gain credibility and trust among Kurdish civilians may prompt Turkey to tighten its grip on the territory, a step that would definitely raise concerns among Turkish partners in the Astana process and players in the region that have been allergic to Turkish ambitions in recent years.

Olive Branch revealed an ongoing trend in Turkey’s isolation from its Western partners. The trend is further reinforced by the prevalence of anti-Turkish narratives in the Western media. The speculations and narrative, however, are supported by the actions and badly managed PR campaign of the Turkish government. The resulting effect negatively impacts not only Turkey’s relations with Europe and the US, but also the Turkish image in the region, especially among the Arab countries, where the media has been directed by political regimes opposing Turkish activism in the Middle East. A lack of critical debates in Turkey has been a contributing factor to the shift in Turkish foreign policy from diplomatic to military means for resolving national security issues.

First published in our partner RIAC

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