Turkey is threatening to boycott UN-backed peace talks on Syria scheduled for later this week if the main Syrian Kurdish party is invited. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said "of course we will boycott" the Geneva talks if the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) are at the table, Cavusoglu said in a TV interview, saying it was a "terror group" like ISIS. "There cannot be PYD elements in the negotiating team. There cannot be terrorist organizations. Turkey has a clear stance." He added: "A table without Kurds will be lacking. However, we are against the YPG and the PYD, who repress Kurds, being at the table..." (Hurriyet Daily News, AFP, Jan. 26) Of course, he didn't say which Kurds should be at the table, and in fact there is no other significant Kurdish force in Syria. We've noted before the Turkish state's sinister game of equating the militantly secular and democratic PYD-YPG—the most effective anti-ISIS force in Syria—with their bitter enemy ISIS. But complicating the situation is that Russia, once again, has come to the defense of the Kurds. Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted Cavusoglu's boycott threat as "blackmail," warning that it would be a "grave mistake" not to invite the PYD. "How can you talk about political reforms in Syria if you ignore a leading Kurdish party?" (ABC, Jan. 26)
Russian aerial terror is again reported from Syria. At least 12 children and an adult were killed by a Russian air-strike at a school in Anjara, just outside Aleppo. Dozens more children and their teachers were injured in Jan. 11 strike, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Photos released on social media show toppled desks covered in dust and rubble lying below a gaping hole in the building. In video footage released on Twitter, one child recounted how her class was set to take an exam when the air-strike hit. (CSM) Schools in Douma, outside Damascus, are closed until further notice after cluster-bomb attacks by Russian warplanes last month Of the 60 civilians killed in Dec. 13 air-strikes on the town, eight were children. Another was the headmistress of a school that came under attack, who ran out into the playground to save try to save children as the bombs started falling. (The Telegraph)
It is looking like the supposed diplomatic breakthrough on Syria could actually end up only escalating the war. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last week to hash out a common position. (AFP, Dec. 15) This came just days after Kerry explicitly disavowed that the US is seeking "regime change" in Syria—making the US tilt to Assad clearer than ever, and vindicating Putin in his move to start bombing Syira. On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a six-month time-table for "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" in Syria. "Free and fair" elections are to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote. However, the official press release on the resolution made no mention of dictator Bashar Assad—and the notion that he will preside over such a transition defies five years of horrific reality.
Well, here's a bizarre irony. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today warned Turkey that "only 24 hours" were left for Ankara to remove forces it sent into the north of his country. "We must be prepared and ready to defend Iraq and its sovereignty," said Abadi. "The air force has the capability...to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces." (Al Jazeera) Turkey says it has deployed the 150 soldiers to the town of Bashiqa to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. (BBC News) So Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its strongman Masoud Barzani have invited in Turkish forces, while the Baghdad regime is demanding that they leave. Turkey is doubtless motivated by the need to police northern Iraq against the growing influence there of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KRG and PKK are ostensibly allied against ISIS. But the KRG is shamefully acquiescing in Turkey's bombing of PKK fighters within its own territory—a terrible blow to Kurdish solidarity and the anti-ISIS struggle. Now this contradiction has just become clearer—and more urgent.
OK, here we go. Get ready for the tiresome semantic debate about whether the San Bernardino massacre was "terrorism," or not. As if that's the most important question we should be grappling with.... Was this yet another random "mass-shooting" motivated by some personal grudge and rooted in America's homegrown culture of vigilantism and personal revenge? (This kind of thing is so commonplace that the same day's shoot-up in Savannah, Ga., barely made the news because only four people were shot, one fatally, the WaPo says.) Or was it inspired or even directed by an extremist political tendency of one stripe or another? This question is pathologically politicized...
Well, the British parliament just voted to enter the air war against ISIS in Syria, having up till now limited its air-strikes to Iraq as part of the US-led coalition. (WP) The Independent boasts that its Patrick Cockburn (assailed as a "media missionary" for the Assad dictatorship by supporters of the Syrian revolution) was invited by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to "brief MPs on the facts about...Syria" ahead of the vote in the House of Commons. By "facts," they actually mean fictions, of course. Putting aside the actual question at hand (that of air-strikes), Cockburn's "briefing" was in fact dedicated to dissing and dismissing the Syrian resistance that is fighting both Assad and ISIS on the ground...
A split in the Syrian rebel forces could actually be salubrious. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a broad and very loose alliance that includes both secular pro-democratic elements and "moderate" (sic) Islamists—the latter considerably more hostile to the very secular-minded Kurds. A clean break between those who support or oppose a multi-ethnic secular post-Assad Syria is inevitable and would clear the political air. Unfortunately, this split is also breaking down along ethnic lines—and is embroiled with the Russo-Turkish game being played for northern Syria. The specter of ethnic warfare and Great Power intrigues threatens to further derail the Syrian revolution and escalate the already confused civil war.
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border Nov. 24, aparenently after it violated Turkish airspace. Vladimir Putin said the Su-24 was hit by air-to-air missiles fired by Turkish F-16s while it was flying over Syrian territory. A military statement from Ankara said the plane violated Turkish airspace in Hatay province and was warned "10 times in five minutes." Reports indicate the plane crashed in Syrian territory, near Yamadi village of Latakia governorate. (Al Jazeera, BBC News) The two pilots reportedly survived the crash but were captured and summarily executed by members of a Turkmen rebel militia. (Reuters) There is some ambiguity about what actually constitutes the border in this area, as Turkey has established a military-controlled buffer zone in Latakia.