Syria reverts to ’90s, Iran abandons Turkey in terror struggle
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a security meeting with newly appointed military commanders and several ministers in Ankara on Thursday.
Turkey has been mostly left without support from the international community in its anti-terrorism efforts against a violent separatist campaign being waged by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Southeast, a situation not unlike that of the 1990s.
Iran has been bombing the bases of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), the PKK's Iranian wing, in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq since July 16, but it has denied Turkey any information on its campaign. Syria also discontinued the support it had for Turkey's fight against the PKK and even started to support the PKK, as it did in the period before 1999. Some of the PKK's most important leaders are hiding in Syria now, according to intelligence reports.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the newly appointed army brass held a security meeting to discuss terrorism and the situation in Syria. In addition to the Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu and Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Hakan Fidan attended the meeting. Fidan presented a detailed report on the recent acts of terrorism of the PKK during the three-hour meeting.
The government and military officials discussed a new strategy that Turkey plans to adopt in fighting terrorism. The government has decided that the current strategy, in which the General Staff is the principal actor, doesn’t work and that the Interior Ministry should take over the job. On July 14, there was another security meeting, chaired by Erdoğan, during which it was decided that the National Police Department will be empowered to conduct anti-terrorism operations in urban areas, leaving the gendarmerie in charge of fighting terrorists in rural areas, reporting to the Interior Ministry, however, not to the General Staff.
Today’s Zaman has obtained MİT’s intelligence report on the PKK and the support extended to it by Turkey’s neighbors. The report gives a highly detailed overview of the PKK’s activities in the region.
The report asserts that Iran, although it appears to be cooperating with Turkey in the fight against the PKK, has not provided a single bit of information on the operations it has been conducting in Kandil since July 16. In fact, it hasn’t even responded to requests from Turkey on information sharing. The PKK claimed that Iran uses intelligence provided by Turkey extensively when conducting its operations against PJAK. Although Iran has extradited 11 PKK militants to Turkey over the past two years, Turkey has failed to establish full and reliable cooperation with this country in anti-terrorism operations.
Syria, which was severely affected by the popular uprisings in the Arab world, is far from maintaining sound cooperation with Turkey in fighting regional terrorism. MİT points to Turkey’s criticism of President Bashar Assad and pressure from Turkish government officials on the Syrian government for reforms, saying the recently revived yet highly fragile relations between the two countries have deteriorated significantly. Intelligence units say Syria is increasingly working together with Iran in the region.
The MİT report recalls that Syria has carried out anti-PKK operations within its borders, starting in 2008, but not one of the 264 PKK militants detained in these operations has been extradited to Turkey.
Syria harbored the PKK and actually gave its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, a comfortable home until 1998, when Turkey threatened war if it continued to offer refuge to Öcalan. The country kicked him out, and he was captured in 1999 in Kenya and was returned to Turkey. The relations of the two countries, however, have improved in recent years, until the Syrian unrest.
Syria is unlikely to take any sincere or actual steps in helping Turkey’s anti-terrorism operations against the PKK, Turkish intelligence reports say. About 3,800 PKK militants currently live in Kandil, and at least 1,500 of them are of Syrian origin, according to Turkish intelligence. MİT’s report also notes that the PKK has not carried out any attacks to date on Syrian soil. Intelligence sources also say some PKK terrorists in Kandil, weary of Iran’s attacks in the area, are hiding in Syria. The lack of attacks on Syria, which has an estimated Kurdish population of 400,000, is highly surprising as the country is widely accepted as being the country where the Kurdish minority is most oppressed. Most Kurds in Syria are not even given Syrian citizenship, and they have to live without any identification documents.
The MİT report also says that as the US has started to pull out from Iraq, the physical zone where the PKK is active has expanded. The report says the US government, despite sharing intelligence with Turkey, makes a point not to get involved in direct clashes with PKK militants. The report says Israel has also become more interested in the region, particularly out of concern regarding Iran’s growing influence. However, this situation makes Israel more willing to cooperate with Turkey, MİT officials also note.
The report also expects the PKK to increase attacks in the summer, as it always does, only to announce a unilateral cease-fire again later, when autumn arrives. The report also notes rifts inside the PKK, saying if any these schisms are used wisely, the PKK can be forced to lay down its arms. The report also notes that those inside the PKK against laying down arms are mostly of Syrian origin.