Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Military leaders from Iran, Turkey meet to discuss Syria, Kurds, and counter-terrorism

August 16, 2017

ANKARA — Turkish and Iranian military leaders held talks on Wednesday over cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism, officials said, during a rare visit to NATO-member Turkey by the Islamic Republic’s military chief of staff.

Turkey’s ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the visit by Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri is the latest sign that Ankara is increasing cooperation with other powers such as Iran and Russia.

Image result for Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, in Turkey, photos

Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri (R) in Ankara to hold talks with a number of high-ranking Turkish officials on cooperation in settling the crises in Syria and Iraq and other issues

Baqeri met his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday and Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli on Wednesday in what Turkish media said was the first visit by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

He was due to meet President Tayyip Erdogan later on Wednesday.

Turkey and Iran have supported rival sides in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with Iran-backed fighters helping President Bashar al-Assad to drive back rebels battling to overthrow him, including some supported by Ankara.

Turkey is concerned that the Syrian chaos has empowered Kurdish forces who it says are closely tied to the long-running insurgency in its southeastern regions, as well as Islamic State fighters who have waged attacks inside Turkey, and is working with Iran and Russia to reduce the fighting in some areas.

An Iranian source said Baqeri was accompanied by the head of the ground forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s most powerful security entity.

“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues – border security and the fight against terrorism – there was a need for such a visit,” Baqeri told Iranian state television on arrival on Tuesday.

The Iranian source said that, in addition to the war in Syria, the two sides would discuss the conflict in Iraq as well as dealing with Kurdish militants in the Turkish-Iranian border region, where Turkish media say Turkey has started building a frontier wall.

RUSSIAN MILITARY CHIEF

Turkey, Iran and Russia agreed in May to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria to try to stem the fighting in some parts of the country, including the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and has since been overrun by jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate.

That has thrown into question any suggestion that the three countries could deploy a force to police the Idlib region.

“The negotiations regarding the Idlib issue are still ongoing,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster TRT Haber on Wednesday.

“After the Iranian chief of staff, the Russian chief of staff will also come to Turkey,” he added.

Turkey has said for months that it is close to buying an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, and Erdogan said in July that the deal had already been signed.

Cavusoglu said Russia understood Turkey’s sensitivities about arming Kurdish fighters better than the United States, although he said U.S. officials had informed Turkey that the most recent shipments to the YPG did not include guns.

“The United States gives us reports about how many weapons they have given to the YPG every month,” he said. The latest “said they gave armored vehicles and a bulldozer, but no guns.”

Turkey’s stepped-up military talks with Iran and Russia coincide with a major oil and gas deal involving firms from the three countries.

The Turkish firm Unit International said this week it has signed a $7 billion agreement with Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and Iran’s Ghadir Investment Holding to drill for oil and natural gas in Iran.

Turkey is also discussing transporting more goods through Iran to the Gulf state of Qatar, which is locked in a dispute with its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alister Doyle)

With a Wary Eye on Iran, Saudi and Iraqi Leaders Draw Closer

August 16, 2017

BAGHDAD/DUBAI — It was an unusual meeting: an Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric openly hostile to the United States sat in a palace sipping juice at the invitation of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Sunni kingdom that is Washington’s main ally in the Middle East.

For all the implausibility, the motivations for the July 30 gathering in Jeddah between Moqtada al-Sadr and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman run deep, and center on a shared interest in countering Iranian influence in Iraq.

For Sadr, who has a large following among the poor in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, it was part of efforts to bolster his Arab and nationalist image ahead of elections where he faces Shi’ite rivals close to Iran.

For the newly elevated heir to the throne of conservative Saudi Arabia, the meeting, and talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in June, are an attempt to build alliances with Iraqi Shi’ite leaders in order to roll back Iranian influence.

Image result for Haider al-Abadi in saudi Arabia, photos

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (R) receives Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 19, 2017. (photo by REUTERS/Bandar Algaloud)

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/06/iraq-saudi-iran-kuwait-is-mosul-abadi.html#ixzz4pvY9nc4G

“Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a bold shift of his policy to deliver a message to regional, influential Sunni states that not all Shi’ite groups carry the label ‘Made in Iran’,” said Baghdad-based analyst Ahmed Younis.

This policy has assumed greater prominence now that Islamic State has been driven back in northern Iraq, giving politicians time to focus on domestic issues ahead of provincial council elections in September and a parliamentary vote next year.

“This is both a tactical and strategic move by Sadr. He wants to play the Saudis off against the Iranians, shake down both sides for money and diplomatic cover,” said Ali Khedery, who was a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors in Iraq.

“NECESSARY EVIL”

Ultimately, Sadr seeks a leadership role in Iraq that would allow him to shape events without becoming embroiled in daily administration, which could erode his popularity, diplomats and analysts say.

Such a role – religious guide and political kingmaker – would fit with the patriarchal status the Sadr religious dynasty has for many Shi’ite Arabs in Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Days after the Jeddah meeting, Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has also taken an assertive line against Tehran, the dominant foreign power in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion ended Sunni minority rule.

Iran has since increased its regional influence, with its forces and allied militias spearheading the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and holding sway in Baghdad.

For Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the bastion of Sunni Islam, less Iranian influence in Iraq would be a big win in a rivalry that underpins conflict across the Middle East.

“There are plans to secure peace and reject sectarianism in the region,” Sadr told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper last week, and it was “necessary to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold”.

Washington supports the Saudi-Iraq rapprochement, but the embracing of Sadr raises questions about whether it sees a man known for his anti-Americanism as a reliable figure.

“It is perhaps close to a necessary evil,” a U.S. official said of the visit, although it was a “very uncomfortable position for us to be in” due to the Sadr’s anti-Americanism, which had led to the deaths of U.S. citizens.

“His visits to the region, and broadly the high profile visits by Iraq, those things broadly are good, in that they get Iraq facing the Gulf nations and they help to turn their attention away from Iran,” the official said.

LIMITED INFLUENCE

A politician close to Sadr said the Jeddah meeting was aimed at building confidence and toning down sectarian rhetoric between the two countries.

The rapprochement is “a careful testing of the waters with the Abadi government and some of the Shia centers of influence like Sadr and, the interior minister,” said Ali Shihabi, Executive Director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation.

How far detente can go is unclear: Iran has huge political, military and economic influence in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up, having reopened an embassy in Baghdad only in 2015 after a 25-year break caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Whatever the Saudis and Gulf states do, “Iran will stay the key player in Iraq for at least the next 10 years,” said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think-tank.

Khedery said Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were not skilled at exerting external influence.

“They usually just throw money at issues and the beneficiaries of that largesse become very, very wealthy and that’s it,” he said. The Iranians in Iraq offered intelligence, diplomatic support and cash and wielded “big sticks” against anyone stepping out of line, he said.

Still, the Jeddah meeting has produced practical results.

Sadr’s office said there was an agreement to study investment in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq. Riyadh will also consider opening a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, Sadr’s base.

Saudi Arabia would donate $10 million to help Iraqis displaced by the war on Islamic State in Iraq, Sadr said, while Iraq’s oil minister said Riyadh had discussed building hospitals in Basra and Baghdad.

After the Saudi trip, Sadr again urged the Iraqi government to dismantle the Tehran-backed Shi’ite paramilitary groups involved in the fight against Islamic State – a theme that is expected to become a top election issue.

A source from Sadr’s armed group told Reuters that after the visit orders were issued to remove anti-Saudi banners from its headquarters, vehicles and streets.

Sadr had called on the Saudis to “stop hostile speeches by fanatical hardline clerics who describe Shi’ites as infidels,” and Crown Prince Mohammed had promised efforts towards this, the politician close to Sadr said.

It remains to be seen how far Saudi Arabia can prevent anti-Shi’ite outbursts by its media or on social media, since Wahhabism, the kingdom’s official ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim school, regards Shi’ism as heretical.

But Saudi minister of state for Gulf affairs Thamer al-Subhan called for tolerance after greeting Sadr, using Twitter to decry “Sunni extremism and Shi’ite extremism”.

Saudi Arabia this week cracked down on Twitter users including a radical Sunni cleric who had published insulting comments about Shi’ites.

WIDER RAPPROCHEMENT

As part of the wider detente, Iraq and Saudi Arabia announced last month they are setting up a council to upgrade strategic relations.

The Saudi cabinet has approved a joint trade commission to look at investment while a Saudi daily reported the countries planned to reopen a border crossing shut for more than 25 years – a point raised by Sadr on his visit.

Another sign of rapprochement is an agreement to increase direct flights to a daily basis. Iraqi Airways hopes to reopen offices in Saudi airports to help Iraqis travel to the kingdom, especially for pilgrimages, Iraq’s transport ministry said.

Then there is coordination on energy policy.

As OPEC producers, the two cooperated in November to support oil prices. Their energy ministers discussed bilateral cooperation and investment last week.

Iranian reaction to the meetings has been minimal.

“Iraqi personalities and officials do not need our permission to travel outside of Iraq or to report to us,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said last week, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil, William Maclean and Rania El Gamal in Dubai and Yara Bayoumy in Washington; editing by Giles Elgood)

Saudi Arabia and Iraq to Re-Open Border Crossing After 27 Years

August 15, 2017

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990, when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi local media reported on Tuesday.

Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the haj season, the Mecca newspaper reported.

The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.

“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.

Image result for Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, photos

 Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbor in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.

The Sunni-led Arab Gulf countries have hosted influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for talks with their crown princes in recent weeks, rare visits after years of troubled relations.

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10 million in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.

Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.

The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.

(Reporting by Katie Paul and Ahmed Rasheed, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Iraq starts bombing Tal Afar in bid to reclaim town from Islamic State group

August 15, 2017

Reuters and France 24

© Mohamed El-Shahed, AFP | Iraqi government forces drive down a road leading to Tal Afar on June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-15

Iraq has begun an aerial bombardment of Tal Afar, a town under Islamic State control west of Mosul, Baghdad-based al-Sumariya TV said on Tuesday, citing an Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman.

The ground attack to try to take the city should start when the air campaign is over, the spokesman, Mohammed al-Khodari, said, according to the TV channel.

Iraqi authorities had said Tal Afar, 80 km (50 miles) west of Mosul, will be the next target in the war on the Islamist militant group that swept through swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” effectively collapsed last month, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces completed the recapture of the militants’ capital in Iraq, Mosul, after a nine-month campaign.

Tal Afar, which had about 200,000 residents before falling to Islamic State, experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has produced some of Islamic State’s most senior commanders.

(REUTERS)

Netanyahu: Time for Kurds to have their own state

August 14, 2017

Israeli PM endorses Kurdish independence, telling Republican lawmakers Kurds ‘share our values’.

By Tzvi Lev, 14/08/17 11:02
Netanyahu

Netanyahu

Alex Kolomoisky/POOL

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered rare support for Kurdish independence, telling a visiting delegation of 33 Republican Congressmen last week that he was in favor of an independent state for the “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu has traditionally shied away from expressing sentiments in favor of the Kurds as to avoid offending Turkey, who has a large, restive Kurdish minority.

The previous time Netanyahu publically supported the Kurds was in 2014, when he said that “It is upon us to support the Kurds’ aspiration for independence,” and calling them a “fighting people that have proven political commitment and political moderation, and they’re also worthy of their own political independence.”

The Kurds are one of the world’s largest stateless ethnic minorities, and live in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

An independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan will take place in September 2017. Former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who many see as Netanyahu’s potential heir, has urged Israel to support Kurdish independence, saying in June that “they have proven themselves over decades to be a reliable strategic partner for us.”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/233887

IS Claims Karbala Attack on Iraqi Troops

August 13, 2017

BAGHDAD — A statement from the Islamic State group claims responsibility for an attack on Iraqi troops outside Karbala that left one dead.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Military Command, says the suicide car bomb attack at a checkpoint outside the southern Iraqi city late Saturday injured two others.

The IS statement said the attack targeted a cement factory outside Karbala and resulted in dozens of casualties.

Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over the Islamic State group in Iraq’s second largest city Mosul in July, depriving the group of their last significant urban foothold in the country.

Iraqi forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition are now preparing to retake the IS-held town of Tal Afar west of Mosul.

Senior Islamic State commanders killed in Afghanistan air strike: U.S. military

August 13, 2017

By Josh Smith

Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) – Several senior members of Islamic State’s central Asian affiliate were killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The attack on Thursday killed Abdul Rahman, identified by the U.S. military as the Kunar provincial emir for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, according to a statement from the command in Kabul.

“The death of Abdul Rahman deals yet another blow to the senior leadership of ISIS-K,” said General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Image result for Abdul Rahman, afghanistan, photos

Abdul Rahman

Three other senior ISIS-K members were also among those killed in the strike in eastern Kunar province.

Nicholson has vowed to defeat Islamic State militants in Afghanistan this year.

The group’s emir, Abu Sayed, was reported killed in a strike on his headquarters in Kunar in July, the third Islamic State emir in Afghanistan to be killed since July 2016.

In April, Nicholson deployed a 21,600-pound (9,797 kg) “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” bomb against Islamic State positions in neighboring Nangarhar province, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used by the United States in combat.

Image result for Nangarhar, afghanistan, photos

Smoke rises after the U.S. strikes positions during an ongoing operation against ISIS in Nangarhar province

On Saturday, Afghan officials said as many as 16 civilians, including women and children, had been killed by a U.S. air strike in Nangarhar, but American officials said only militants were killed.

As part of an increased campaign against both Islamic State and the Taliban, the dominant Islamist militant group in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has dropped nearly 2,000 weapons in the country as of the end of July, compared to fewer than 1,400 in all of last year.

Despite some battlefield successes by Afghan and American special operations troops, Islamic State has continued deadly attacks around Afghanistan, fueling fears that the group is seeking to bring the group’s Middle East conflict to Central Asia.

Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill

US urges Iraq Kurds to postpone independence vote

August 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | An Iraqi man prints Kurdistan flags in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Washington has urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to postpone an independence referendum scheduled for next month but he requested something in return, his office said Saturday.

The timing of the September 25 vote has drawn criticism from both the Baghdad and Western governments, coming as the campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq if still unfinished.

In a telephone call on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington “would want for the referendum to be postponed and that the issues between the Kurdistan region and the federal government in Baghdad should be addressed through dialogue”, Barzani’s office said in an English-language statement.

The Kurdish leader responded that were it to be put off, “the people of the Kurdistan region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future”.

Some Iraqi Kurdish officials have openly acknowledged that calling the referendum was intended as a bargaining counter in negotiations with Baghdad on other issues.

The Kurdish regional government’s representative in Iran, Nazem Dabbagh, said last month that the Kurds wanted Baghdad to meet their longstanding demand for plebiscites on incorporating other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region.

He said they also wanted Baghdad to ratify laws on oil revenues and funding for the Kurdish security forces, known as the peshmerga, who have played a crucial role in the fight against IS.

The referendum would in any case be non-binding and is strongly opposed by neighbours Iran and Turkey, which have sizeable Kurdish minorities of their own and whose acquiescence is seen as key to achieving a viable separation.

Iraq to hang 27 for IS Camp Speicher massacre

August 8, 2017

BBC News

Iraqi Shia fighters examine a burial site thought to hold victims of the Camp Speicher massacre
Mass graves were discovered near after Iraqi forces recaptured the area in 2015. AFP photo

An Iraqi court has sentenced to death 27 men for their involvement in the massacre of up to 1,700 soldiers by so-called Islamic State (IS) in June 2014.

Twenty-five suspects were released because of a lack of evidence.

It is the latest batch of death sentences passed in connection with the killings – 36 men were hanged a year ago for their part in the massacre.

IS filmed the killings, at the former US base of Camp Speicher, near Tikrit, in an early piece of shock propaganda.

Most of the victims are believed to have been young Shia recruits who were based at the camp when Tikrit was overrun by IS.

Photos and videos published by IS at the time showed soldiers being lined up and shot at various locations.

Some bodies were pushed into the River Tigris, while others were buried in mass graves that were found after government forces recaptured the city a year later.

The condemned men have the right to appeal against the sentences.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40866081

After Military Shake-Up, Erdogan Says Turkey to Tackle Kurds in Syria

August 7, 2017

ISTANBUL — Days after a reshuffle of Turkey’s top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State.

Kurdish militia are spearheading an assault against the hardline militants in their Syrian stronghold Raqqa, from where Islamic State has planned attacks around the world for the past three years.

But U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views their growing battlefield strength as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency by the Kurdish PKK within in its borders.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Getty]

There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, reinforced that section of the border at the weekend with artillery and tanks and Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take action.

“We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.”

The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.

Erdogan’s comments follow the appointment of three new leaders of Turkey’s army, air force and navy last week – moves which analysts and officials said were at least partly aimed at preparing for any campaign against the YPG militia.

Turkish forces swept into north Syria last year to seize territory from Islamic State, while also cutting off Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria from the Kurdish pocket of Afrin further west. They thereby prevented Kurdish control over almost the whole sweep of the border – Ankara’s worst-case scenario.

Recent clashes have centered around the Arab towns of Tal Rifaat and Minnigh, near Afrin, which are held by the Kurdish YPG and allied fighters.

Erdogan said Turkey’s military incursion last year dealt a blow to “terrorist projects” in the region and promised further action. “We will make new and important moves soon,” he said.

“MORE ACTIVE” FIGHT

His comments follow weeks of warnings from Turkey of possible military action against the YPG.

Washington’s concern to prevent any confrontation which deflects the Kurdish forces attacking Raqqa may help stay Ankara’s hand, but a Turkish government source said last week’s changes in military leadership have prepared the ground.

“With this new structure, some steps will be taken to be more active in the struggle against terror,” the source said. “A structure that acts according to the realities of the region will be formed”.

The battle for Raqqa has been underway since June, and a senior U.S. official said on Friday that 2,000 Islamic State fighters are believed to be still defending positions and “fighting for every last block” in the city.

Even after the recapture of Raqqa, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left open the possibility of longer-term American assistance to the YPG.

The influence of Turkey’s once-dominant military has decreased dramatically since Erdogan came to power nearly 15 years ago. A purge in senior ranks since last year’s failed military coup has stripped it of 40 percent of top officers.

Last Wednesday’s appointments were issued by the Supreme Military Council, a body which despite its name is now dominated by politicians loyal to Erdogan.

“Of course the political will is behind these decisions, Erdogan’s preferences are behind them,” the source said. “But the restructuring of the Turkish Armed Forces and the demand for a more active fight against the PKK and Islamic State also has a role”.

Vacancies in senior military ranks resulting from the year-long purge would not be filled immediately, he said, but would be addressed over time.

While all three forces – air, land and sea – are under new command, focus has centered on the new army chief Yasar Guler. As head of Turkey’s gendarmerie, he was seen to take a tough line against the PKK and the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by the government for the July 2016 coup attempt.

Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said the YPG “remains at the epicenter of Turkey’s threat perception”.

Guler was well-placed to address Turkey’s “transnational counter-terrorism priorities” and lead the campaign against Kurdish forces because of his past roles as chief of military intelligence, head of gendarmerie and postings to NATO.

“There is an undeniable likelihood that Turkey’s new top military chain of command might have to lead a major campaign against the YPG,” Kasapoglu said.

Guler is now favorite to take over from the overall head of the Turkish armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, who is due to step down in two years.

“Guler gets on well with members of Erdogan’s AK Party and is known for his hardline performance against the PKK…and the Gulen movement,” said Metin Gurcan an independent security analyst and retired Turkish military officer who now writes a column for Al-Monitor news website.

For the president, who faces a re-election campaign in 2019, a smooth succession from Akar to Guler would avoid any military upheaval which could send his plans off-course, Gurcan said.

“Until 2023, Erdogan should have smooth sailing without disruption from the Turkish armed forces.”

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Dirimcan Barut in Ankara; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

***********************************

Turkey Syria border, Syria and turkey news, International news, syrian war, isis war, turkey and syria, latest news

A Turkish tank on the Syrian border. (Source: Reuters)

Turkey is preparing to ramp up military operations in northern Syria, following a major set back for Ankara’s rebel allies in Idlib province and the continued advance of Kurdish militias, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Syrian opposition forces in the Aleppo countryside have been reliant on the support of the Turkish army and air force, but the offensive by the Operation Euphrates Shield group has stalled in recent months.

“The Euphrates Shield was the dagger we introduced at the heart of the terrorist presence project in Syria, and we are determined to develop new campaigns,” Erdogan said during a speech, in which he discussed the opening of a number of facilities in the Turkish city of Malatya.

“We will take important steps to implement the new campaigns in the near future.”

The Turkish armed forces sent military reinforcements to the border of the city of Kilis, near to areas controlled by the forces of the militias allied to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Erdogan said the military build-up would strengthen Turkish forces deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkish news agencies confirmed the increased military presence along the southern border against threats from Kurdish militants in war-torn northern Syria.

The official Anadolu news agency said on Saturday that Turkey dispatched artillery to Kilis province to back units there.

Turkish-backed rebel groups in Idlib province have also been forces to flee the region after an offensive by al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2017/8/6/turkey-to-extend-military-presence-in-syria