The National Security Council (MGK) of Turkey has met to discuss further anti-PKK operations in countries surrounding Turkey. Specially, the MGK has stated that unless YPG/PKK terrorists withdraw from the Syrian city on Manbij, Turkey will not hesitate to neutralise YPG forces in the city as part of the ongoing Operation Olive Branch. The renewed Turkish promise to neutralise the YPG in Manbij can be read as a further ultimatum to the United States that continues to station its own troops in the city while refusing to disarm its YPG proxies who fight under the flag of the so-called SDF.
The MGK also reiterated that if Iraqi forces are not able to expel the PKK from the northern city of Sinjar, Turkish forces will also intervene there. Earlier, Iraq had assured Turkey that it is doing all in its power to rid its northern regions of the internationally recognised terrorist group.
Additionally, local authorities in Mosul have ordered the PKK to vacate their position in Sinjar which they first came to occupy in 2014 when much of northern Iraq was controlled by the Daesh terrorist organisation. Since the military defeat of Daesh in Iraq, Baghdad has re-asserted its control over Mosul and surrounding areas.
While Ankara and Damascus do not have diplomatic ties, Iraq has developed an increasingly positive relationship with Turkey over the last year. In the autumn of 2017, Turkey and Iran helped to enforce a no-fly zone over northern Iraq as Baghdad sent in the armed forces to quash a secessionist Kurdish insurgency led by local Peshmerga militants. While the Peshmerga and PKK are not allies, since the quashing of the Kurdish insurgency in Iraq, PKK forces have moved into Iraq in order to set up anti-Turkish operations with the implied consent of at least some of the autonomous Kurdish authorities based in Erbil.
The example of Turkish cooperation with Iraq, could potentially serve as a model for a settlement to the conflict in Syria where Ankara-Damascus relations are concerned. The liberation of over 90% of Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian Arab Army means that realistically, the larger war against Takfiri terrorism is now limited to Idlib in addition to scattered pockets of Takfiri groups near the occupied Golan Heights, as well as the strategically unimportant pocket of US allied fighters based in Al-Tanf.
Russia is keen to see Syria and Turkey reach a compromise solution to their disputes arising from Turkey’s actions in northern Syria. At the same time, Syria and Turkey have a de-facto common rival in Syria as both Turkish forces and US forces are at loggerheads over the issue of Kurdish militants. The US continues to occupy vast regions of north eastern Syria while arming YPG terrorists who seek to create their own statelet on legal Syrian territory, while Turkey has threatened to pursue the YPG further east, including in areas where the US has set up illegal bases.
Thus, while Syria remains opposed to both the US and Turkish presence on its soil, in reality it is the US that poses the most direct long term threat to Syria’s territorial unity, given that Washington officials have publicly stated that US troops will not withdraw from Syria in the foreseeable future. By contrast, Turkey has worked cooperatively with Syria’s Russian and Iranian partners as part of the Astana format for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict, while multiple Turkish officials, including the President have publicly stated that Turkey has no intention to remain in Syria for the foreseeable future.
Based on the Iraqi precedent, Syria could voice its willingness to make guarantees to Turkey regarding cross-border YPG/PKK terrorism in exchange for Turkey handing control of parts of northern Syria back to the legitimate Syrian authorities. Not only would Russia be happy to facilitate such an agreement, but Russia has indeed been adamant that Syria and Turkey reconcile their differences as part of Moscow’s much vaunted desire to establish a peaceful political settlement to the conflict.
If such a settlement could be reached, it would satisfy the primary disputes between Ankara and Damascus, while further isolating the US in its unilateral position of occupation vis-a-vis every other party to the Syrian conflict (with the exception of “Israel” whose occupation of Syria dates back to 1967).
Iraq’s relations with Turkey have gone from cold to cooperative and while Syria’s relationship with Turkey is far more fraught than Iraq’s has been in recent years, the Ankara-Baghdad agreement over Sinjar nevertheless has wide-reaching implications for Syria, assuming that both Ankara and Damascus are able to work closely with Russia in forging a a diplomatic agreement that could solve problems from the perspective of both the Syrian and Turkish governments.