Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Upping the jihadist ante

Wrong footed by ISIS, the Turkish government is chided for its presumed friendship with militants, Sayed Abdel-Meguid reports from Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Erdogan government is in dire straits, bullied by terrorists abroad, heckled by opposition at home, and faced with the prospects of having to reverse its policies in both Syria and Iraq.

As the prime minister weighs his options, some say that he will have to come to terms with some of the leaders he once shunned as a spent force: Bashar Al-Assad of Syria and Nuri Al-Maliki of Iraq.

Turkish policies have failed in Syria, where the man Erdogan described as a “butcher” (Al-Assad) managed to survive against the odds, and is perhaps claiming back some of his lost credibility, thanks to his war against the jihadists that many now claim were helped by Ankara.

What brought discontent to Turkey and discomfort to the government was the recent debacle in Mosul, where the Turkish consulate was attacked by members of the Islamic Republic in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who some claim had received succours in the past from Ankara.

Kurdish sources claim that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and ISIS have colluded in the past. Muharrem Ince, a key parliamentarian for the opposition’s Republican People’s Party, claimed that a top ISIS official named Mazin Abu Mohamed received medical treatment at a Turkish hospital among a batch of 27 injured Syrians recently.

Nurettin Canikli, leader of the JDP parliamentary bloc, denied the charges. And hospital sources in Hatay issued an official statement saying that the name Mazin Abu Mohamed doesn’t appear in any of the lists of patients admitted for treatment in Turkish hospitals.

The newspaper Vatan ran an editorial titled, “Al-Qaeda at the Gates”, in which it portrayed the growing threat of jihadist groups in and around Turkey. “For the first time [Al-Qaeda] has become a neighbour of Turkey, [its fighters] now in control of cities close to our borders and traversing our territories in broad daylight,” the editorial went.

In Ankara, commentators have chided the government for its failure to act on the terrorist threat next door. Professor Deniz Ulke Aribogan from Istanbul University said that the policies of the ruling party “led Turkish diplomacy into a quagmire”.

Speaking to the television station CNN Turk, Aribogan said that Ankara’s failure to anticipate the ISIS move has put its citizens in harm’s way, as the storming of the Mosul consulate made clear.

Erdogan and his party, she said, wanted to give the impression that they were the top experts on the Middle East, but they proved to be incompetent and ill informed.

The abduction of Turks, including diplomats, in Mosul was the result of negligence in high places, Aribogan stated.

She is not the only one now pointing the finger at the Erdogan government. Many now fault the Turkish Foreign Ministry for failing to evacuate nationals from Mosul, despite the growing peril.

Speaking at a news conference on 13 June, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that, “Some people were trying to depict the situation [in Iraq] as chaotic.” His statement runs in the face of earlier warnings by his own ministry.

Questions abound about the incidents that led to the storming of the Mosul consulate and the abduction of nearly 50 Turkish nationals, including diplomats, from its perimeters.

Before leaving Ankara to the US on a trip that was to end abruptly, Davutoglu claimed that adequate security measures were taken to protect Turkish nationals in Mosul.

Another government official who was slammed by the opposition is Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, whose view that ISIS was not “targeting Turkey” has been rendered meaningless by recent developments.

In Turkey, officials seem to be caught up in a conundrum, with charges of incompetence against the government bringing old animosities to the fore.

The trouble in Iraq is now coming to haunt back one of the US’s closest allies in the region. When Washington led the invasion of Iraq, its declared goals of democracy and peace seemed believable. But the last 11 years, which ended in political vacuum with the US withdrawal from Iraq, have paved the way to the rise of the jihadists, who now harbour regional aims, including the creation of a new caliphate across what appear to be tenuous post-World War I borders.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Al-Maliki failed to listen to advice from his Kurdish government partners, who are said to have offered to use the Peshmerga to hold ISIS at bay.

Now, the flight of the Mosul population to Iraqi Kurdistan has highlighted a reality that the Baghdad Shia politicians may have found uncomfortable; namely, that Erbil has emerged as Iraq’s new powerhouse.

Will Ankara edge closer to Erbil in its effort to bring peace and stability to its borders? Will Turkey cooperate with the Kurds, setting aside a history of distrust, to keep the jihadists of ISIS at bay?

As the region’s topography of power morphs in an unprecedented fashion, this and similar questions will have to be addressed. And in their answer lies the future not only of Turkey, but also of a region in flux.

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