Turkey: Help Regime Change in Syria, & We Help You ‘Degrade and Destroy ISIL’

Osamah Golpy

By Osamah Golpy:

Turkey, the only Muslim NATO member, bordering both Iraq and Syria, is more reluctant than ever and more than any other nation—big and small—to take military action against the Islamic State—despite calls by its NATO ally, the United States and its regional strategic partner, Kurdistan Region.

The Islamic State kidnapped 49 Turks, including diplomats and children, from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on June 11 as they took control of the city in a lighting advance. Just a week later, the Turkish government, based on a court ruling, imposed a media blackout on the hostage crisis arguing that any coverage would endanger lives. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu broke this blackout in the early hours of September 20: finally the hostages had reached Turkey, safe and secure—and for some, they could smoke for the first time after 101 long days in IS custody, as one hostage told the Turkish media.

There were several feted heroes behind this success including the Turkish National Intelligence Agency MIT, the Prime Minister’s office and maybe the presidency, too — along with unnamed heroes, of whom the Prime Minister said, “You might never see their faces”. But what about those who failed to take measures to conduct an evacuation before it was too late; will the Turks see their faces?

Back in June foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was directly responsible for taking measures to secure the safety of the consulate in Mosul. The Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Bazani revealed earlier this month that he had alluded to the possible need for an evacuation of Mosul consulate in his calls with Davutoğlu and the Turkish consul general, but they told him they would be fine!

No doubt the media blackout could crucially help the safe return of the hostages, but it was just as crucial in saving a political face — the public image of a politician who has climbed up the ladder to become Prime Minister. The Turkish authorities were therefore more than willing to make compromises, as they apparently did, to secure the hostages’ return.

There are more than one million Syrian refugees in Turkey, thanks to the open door policy but, rather importantly, many of them headed towards the neighboring country in the hope that Turkey would continue to seek regime change back home. Any major change in that policy, including weakening Assad’s foes—of whom the IS is perceived to be one—might eventually blur that little glimpse of hope, and could thereby backfire.

“We are not a country that is outside of the region,” Erdoğan reportedly said in an interview with PBS, “The fire is burning in our region.  A total of 1.5 million refugees are not in the U.S., Germany or France, but Turkey. They are in my country, and our country is hosting those people and defending them.”

Well, over 96% of the Turkish population is Muslim, of whom over 72% are Sunni Muslims, the sect adhered to by a majority of Syrians. There is no doubt the Turkish people, at least the majority, like their government, would like to see Assad, who comes from the ruling Alevi minority, gone.

Turkey is not willing to isolate the IS threat from the whole civil war in Syria and the sectarian conflict in Iraq. In fact, it blames the Shiite-dominated governments in both countries for much of what is happening right now. Empowering the impoverished Sunni communities is the key to tackle the threat imposed by the radical Islamists, Turkey suggests.

The message from Turkey is simple and clear: you help us wipe out the Assad regime, and we help you “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL”. Importantly, the plan to train and equip the opposition in Syria could prove to be the first step to move Turkey’s appetite for military action. But the path to winning Turkey is very difficult, because it also wants to have a bigger say in whom to support in Syria, and that adds to the headache of Obama’s strategy on IS.

Osamah Golpy is a Kurdish freelance journalist: Osamagolpy@yahoo.com

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