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Turkey prepares military operation against Syrian Kurds as Iraqi Kurds surrender

Iraq’s Kurds have agreed to meet Iraq’s reasonable demands, while Turkey eyes direct confrontation with US backed Kurdish militants in Syria.

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Many Syrians were worried that Turkey’s large scale operation in Idlib would be a repeat of the disastrous Operation Euphrates Shield, which brought considerable instability to Syria at a time when many parts of western Syria were still contending with large-scale onslaughts from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including Turkish backed jihadists who preferred to fly under the ever fluid FSA banner.

However, while Syria’s outright disdain for Turkey is more than understandable, as a friend of Syria, I was pleased to say that the Turkey of Autumn 2017 had vastly different regional goals and diametrically different geo-strategic partners and corresponding priorities, than the Turkey of the Summer of 2016.

The rapidity of Turkey’s pivot has left many thinking that no country can change the trajectory of its goals so much–so soon. But the combination of US/EU hostility towards Turkey and the very economic and security real incentives offered by Russia, Iran and China, has indeed forced a Turkish pivot which I contend is sincere. This pivot is based on self-interest, which is often the most reliable motivating factor for both geo-political as well as personal realignments.

When Turkey announced its “troop surge” in Idlib, it immediately differed from Euphrates Shield, insofar as while Euphrates Shield was totally illegal according to international law, Turkey’s present movements in Idlib are widely thought to be sanctioned by the latest Astana Agreement which was co-signed by Russia and Iran (two long term allies of Syria). Damascus itself was present at the signing of the agreement to establish a largely Turkish policed “de-escalation zone”. While Syria publicly stated that Turkey has no right to be in the country, this is now a question of how one interprets Turkey’s mandate under the Astana Agreement. Of course, Syria has the ultimate legal right to ask any country to leave its territory at anytime. But because of the nature of Astana, what was once a black and white question of Turkey’s illegal presence in Syria, is now something of a grey area, one which Russia is almost certainly managing behind the scenes, in order to avoid any profound crises.

IDLIB: Where sectarian wars, proxy wars and international cooperation collide

Whatever one’s views on Turkey and President Erdogan, one must acknowledge that Turkey’s present operations in northern Syria are fundamentally different than previous incursions. Whereas in Euphrates Shield, Erdogan was after regime change in Damascus, with an added bonus of containing Kurdish ethno-nationalists in Syria, today’s operations are entirely about not only containing, but also sending a direct warning to Syrian Kurds. The warning was made loud and clear by President Erdogan when he claimed that the Idlib operation was more or less finished after a few shorts weeks. Instead, Turkey will now turn its attention to Afrin, a hot bed of Kurdish militants or as many in both Syria and Turkey would say, terrorists. Another major difference between today’s Turkish operations and Euphrates Shield is that while during Euphrates Shield, Erdogan wanted the US to do more to bolster Sunni supremacist regime change in Syria, now, Erdogan admonishes the US for backing what Ankara considers to be Kurdish terrorists.

During a detailed speech before his AK Party loyalists, Erdogan stated,

“The Afrin issue lay ahead of us. We want everyone to know this. We will not make any concessions. We can come suddenly at night. We can suddenly hit at night”.

This is as much of a warning to Kurdish YPG militants as it is to the United States, a country very much included in Erdogan’s “everyone” category.

He continued, referencing the infamous images of Kurdish militants standing beside a giant photo of terrorist PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in the smouldering city of Raqqa that has been effectively wiped off the map after a US carpet bombing campaign. Erdogan further slammed the US for what he felt were unsatisfactory answers to the now overt issue of a YPG/PKK alliance.

Erdogan stated,

“They (the US) say ‘It’s not PKK.’ How will America explain that the giant posters of the secessionist terrorists organisation are hanging in Raqqa? We did not believe when it was spoken, but it’s on TV screens and photos”.

Turning to the unsatisfactory response from the US about how it does not consider Ocalan “worthy of comment”, Erdogan stated,

“What kind of remark is that? Does this suit a country like you? Well, you have been the cradle of democracy”.

Erodgan then stated that while the US is lax about PKK terrorism, it is “only bold enough to issue arrest warrants for my 13 security guards, most of whom have never seen America before”.

This is a reference to altercations between Erdogan’s private security contingent, who got into scuffles with agitators in the US during Erdogan’s recent visit to Washington.

Beyond Afrin, new information has emerged that Turkey intends to capture the Kurdish militant hotbed of Manbij. Al-Masdar reports that leaflets have been distributed to Turkish proxy fighters in Aleppo saying that Manbij will be taken, “no matter what the cost is”.

Turkey has always stated that it will not tolerate any Kurdish statelet forming on its borders. In continually backing Kurdish proxies, the US has called Erdogan’s bluff, only to find out that he is entirely serious.

This helps explain why Iraqi Kurds who just days ago called for hard reprisals against the “war” which they claimed Iraqi forces waged by restoring control over northern Iraq, have today engaged in a profound climb-down.

Today, an entirely different tone has been offered by the Kurdish regime in Iraq, one which contrasts sharply with earlier calls for “revenge” on both Iraqi and so-called Iranian forces in the country. According to a statement from the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil,

“The dangerous situation and tension that faces Iraq and Kurdistan forces all of us to live up to the historical responsibility and to not allow the situation to lead to further war and confrontation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga.

The aggression and the confrontation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga since October 16, 2017 has caused damage to both sides. It may also result in continued bloodshed and result in cutting the social relations between the Iraqi components.

It is a fact that a war between the two sides will not have a winner. It will instead lead both sides to great damages in all aspects of life. That is why, from the perspective of our responsibility towards the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, we propose the following to the government of Iraq, the Iraqi public opinion, and to the world:

The immediate cessation of fighting and every kind of military operations in the Kurdistan Region.

Freezing the outcome of the referendum that was held in the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Beginning an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal government on the basis of the Iraqi constitution”.

This statement effectively gives Baghdad everything it has asked for. Baghdad’s demands which were always legal and reasonable, were previously rejected by Iraqi Kurds, but today’s about-face demonstrates a de-facto surrender wherein Kurds admit that secession is unrealistic and that they will work with Iraq to return to the status quo of autonomy in constitutionally defined regions.

While Iraqi Kurds have traditionally had better relations (in recent decades) with Turkey than their Syrian counterparts, Turkey threatened to cut off all economic activity in and out of Iraq’s Kurdish regions while refusing to rule out military intervention.

The message from Turkey was loud and clear. It boiled down to the fact that neither the US nor Israel could resupply Iraqi Kurds, even if such a will existed. Increasingly, Kurds have found that such a will did not exist in any meaningful way and instead acquiesced to Iraq’s reasonable demands rather than face a Turkish military onslaught.

In Syria, where the Kurdish YPG has known links to the PKK, links which are now being openly flaunted, things are going to be much more tense. While the US has launched proxy wars in Syria and Iraq for years, now America’s own proxies are in the sights of the Turkish army. It remains to be seen how much the US is willing to fight for their own proxies. If they are in fact willing to do so, it would be an open confrontation with Turkey, a country which is still technically a member of NATO.

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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