Ankara is considering sanctions against Erbil over the referendum: Erdoğan

Erdoğan also said Turkey was considering counter-measures, including imposing sanctions, against Kurdish northern Iraq over a planned referendum. Iraqi Kurdish authorities have defied growing international pressure to call off the referendum on independence. Iraq’s neighbors fear it will fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations and Western allies said it could detract from the fight against Daesh. Turkey has brought forward a cabinet meeting and national security council session to Friday over the referendum, Erdoğan said. He said that parliament would also convene for an extraordinary meeting on Saturday. “Without any further delay we are going to discuss what kind of sanctions should be imposed and when the sanctions will be imposed,” he said without elaborating on what they might be. Turkish troops are also carrying out military exercises near the border and Erdoğan said on Saturday the resolution on troop deployment abroad will be submitted to parliament for a vote.

‘Turkish troops will be deployed inside Idlib’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday Turkey will deploy troops in Syria’s northern Idlib region as part of a so-called de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia last month. The “de-escalation” zones, agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, would be further discussed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip to Ankara next week, Erdoğan said in an interview with Reuters while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. “Under the agreement, Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib and Turkey will maintain the security inside Idlib region,” Erdoğan said. “The task is not easy … With Putin we will discuss additional steps needed to be taken in order to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during an interview with Reuters in New York [21/9/2017]

Strategic partners

Meeting Erdoğan on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday praised his leadership and said he “has become a friend of mine.” Relations between Turkey and the United States were strained over Turkish security officials involved in street fighting with protesters during a visit to Washington in May.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh in Syria and Iraq but Ankara’s ties with Washington are strained over support provided by the United States to the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. Viewed by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the YPG has been among the most effective partners on the ground in the U.S.-led fight against the Daesh. Erdoğan warned Washington that arming the YPG could end up hurting Washington and its allies. “Weapons are being deployed to YPG … We are strategic allies with the United States …, we should avoid helping YPG,” he said.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

Advertisements

U.S. ‘strongly opposes’ Kurdistan Region independence referendum

The U.S. has sent its starkest signal yet that it ‘strongly opposes’ Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum. In a statement issued by the State Department, the U.S. government warns that the referendum will hurt the Kurds as ‘the costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds’ and states that ‘all of Iraq’s neighbors, and virtually the entire international community, also oppose’ it.

The United States strongly opposes the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum on independence, planned for September 25. All of Iraq’s neighbors, and virtually the entire international community, also oppose this referendum. The United States urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to accept the alternative, which is a serious and sustained dialogue with the central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations, and other partners, on all matters of concern, including the future of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship.

If this referendum is conducted, it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the above international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed.

The costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds. Already the referendum has negatively affected Defeat-ISIS coordination to dislodge ISIS from its remaining areas of control in Iraq. The decision to hold the referendum in disputed areas is especially de-stabilizing, raising tensions which ISIS and other extremist groups are now seeking to exploit. The status of disputed areas and their boundaries must be resolved through dialogue, in accordance with Iraq’s constitution, not by unilateral action or force.

Finally, the referendum may jeopardize Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional trade relations, and international assistance of all kinds, even though none of Iraq’s partners wish this to be the case. This is simply the reality of this very serious situation. In contrast, genuine dialogue, the alternative, which we urge Kurdish leaders to embrace, holds the promise of resolving a great many of Iraqi Kurds’ legitimate grievances, and establishing a new and constructive course for Baghdad-Erbil relations that benefit all the people of Iraq.

The Kurds can be proud already of what the referendum process has produced, including more Kurdish unity, reviving the Kurdish parliament for the first time in nearly two years, and placing important issues on the international stage, with partners and friends prepared to build on the spirit of cooperation seen between Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the campaign against ISIS to help resolve outstanding issues. ‎Unfortunately, the referendum next week will jeopardize all of this momentum and more.

The referendum itself is now all the more unnecessary given the alternative path that has been prepared and endorsed by the United States and the international community.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iraqi Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi during a meeting in Washington DC [March 22, 2017]
Sources: Syria & Iraq News

UN’s Guterres says Kurdistan referendum would ‘detract’ from the need to defeat Daesh

The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres has released a statement on the upcoming Kurdistan Region independence referendum, claims that ‘any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL’ and reiterates his respect for the ‘sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq’.

The Secretary-General believes that any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL, as well as the much-needed reconstruction of the regained territories and the facilitation of a safe, voluntary and dignified return of the more than three million refugees and internally displaced people.

The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.

The Secretary-General calls upon the leaders across Iraq to approach this matter with patience and restraint. The United Nations stands ready to support such efforts.

António Guterres

Source: United Nations/Syria & Iraq News

Turkey’s Erdoğan to discuss Kurdistan referendum with Iraqi PM al-Abadi

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday he would meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during his visit to the United States this week and discuss northern Iraq’s planned independence referendum.

Speaking to reporters before departing for New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Erdoğan said Ankara and Baghdad shared the same view regarding the referendum, adding that it would divide Iraq.

Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting in Ankara, December 25, 2014.

Source: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

Daesh suicide attacks on restaurants, checkpoint, kill at least 80 near Nasiriyah

Three suicide attacks claimed by Daesh killed at least 80 people near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on Thursday and wounded more than 97, local police said.

Wearing security force uniforms and driving stolen army vehicles, the attackers targeted a police checkpoint and two restaurants on a highway near the city of Nasiriyah, using car bombs and suicide vests, the sources said.

Daesh claims responsibility

Daesh claimed responsibility in a statement on its Amaq news agency. The jihadist group said it had killed “dozens of Shi‘ites”. Daesh activity is usually concentrated in western and northern Iraq. Bomb attacks in the south, where the bulk of the country’s oil is produced and security forces hold a tighter grip, are relatively rare.

The head of Nasiriyah’s health directorate, Jassim al-Khalidi, said the city’s hospital had received 50 bodies and the death toll could rise because some of the wounded were in critical condition. The dead included civilians and members of security forces. Six attackers were also killed. Hospital sources said at least 15 Iranian pilgrims, who were visiting holy Shi‘ite shrines, were among the dead.

The deadliest attack was at a restaurant west of Nasiriyah. “One attacker blew up his suicide vest inside the crowded restaurant while a group of other gunmen started to throw grenades and fire at diners,” said police colonel Ali Abdul Hussain. Police sources said some police officers had died in the checkpoint attack, but the toll from that incident remained unclear.

Security sources said forces were placed on alert in most of the southern provinces, including the oil city of Basra, in case of similar attacks.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/Reuters/dpa

The hunt for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still on

The hunt for Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is very much on. According to a report by CNN, at one point over the summer the US believed they had their best shot at killing the jihadist leader in an airstrike, several US officials said. The strike, which has never been publicly disclosed, was based on intelligence that indicated a senior Daesh leader, quite possibly al-Baghdadi, was at the particular location. The officials familiar with the strike tell CNN it has never been definitively determined if al-Baghdadi was actually killed. But one official said that over recent months “we tried to take several shots at him.” One reason the US remains uncertain if it killed al-Baghdadi is that in the days and weeks that followed the strike, US intelligence did not intercept any Daesh communications confirming his death and there was no discussion on Daesh social media accounts, US officials said. Given al-Baghdadi’s stature, the US expects to see significant chatter discussing his death, if he is killed. The strike occurred after a claim by Russia in June that the Daesh leader might have been killed in one of its airstrikes on the outskirts of Raqqa on May 28. The US has long believed that the Russian claim is not true.

In another instance CNN has learned that US military planners for a ground mission being conducted by US forces thought they were on al-Baghdadi’s trail for a significant period of time. Intelligence indicated an individual with the name al-Baghdadi was at a target site, a US official confirmed to CNN. Senior US administration officials were briefed but a raid did not happen because of concern over the potential number of civilians at the site. The US official says they now believe al-Baghdadi was likely not at the location. It remains unclear if that individual was any relation to the Daesh leader.

A consistent problem the US has faced is that intelligence tips on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts are often not timely, meaning he is likely to have moved on before they are able to mount an operation to take him out. Al-Baghdadi is believed to remain fairly mobile, often moving by vehicle with just a driver one official told CNN. Because he potentially remains on the move, the best chance of killing him might come with last minute intelligence that would require a strike by a drone already loitering nearby.

Over the last several months, the top US commander in Baghdad has given several tantalizing answers to reporters about al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. In a July 11 press briefing, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters: “I’m unable to confirm or deny where he is or whether he is alive or dead.” Townsend recently departed Iraq after his tour of duty as commander was completed. In his final press conference on August 31, Townsend told reporters “I really don’t know where he is.” He then added “I believe he’s alive? Yes. Why? Because I’ve seen no convincing evidence, intelligence or open source or other — rumor or otherwise, that he’s dead. So, therefore, I believe he’s alive.” Without offering details Townsend also said “there are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s still alive.”

Officials say that now Daesh has largely been forced out of Raqqa as well as Mosul, they believe al-Baghdadi is somewhere in the middle Euphrates River Valley, which could put him in the crosshairs of the Syrian regime and Russian aircraft operating in the region. Two administration officials also say that over the last several weeks the CIA assembled specific intelligence that prompted undisclosed drone strike missions carried out by the military mainly in Syria to go after Daesh targets. The CIA declined to comment on the matter. Because of the lack of confirmation about al-Baghdadi’s death, the working assumption by the US is that he still remains alive. Officials say they will continue to pursue him even though they believe that his relevance in the Daesh organization may be diminished as the coalition drives fighters out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Sources: CNN/Syria & Iraq News