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The Middle East is sitting on more than one powder keg

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The Middle East is sitting on more than one powder keg

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Jul 21, 2019 9:36 pm

The Middle East is sitting on
more than one powder keg


The only thing that stops them from exploding into all-out conflicts is the deep reluctance of the more reasonable actors to rise to the bait of their ruthless rivals who methodically carved up the region into spheres of influence while America slept

Take for instance the recent spate of air strikes by Turkey on the Iraqi side of the border. They have been launched presumably on the assumption that the fatal shooting on July 17 of a Turkish consular employee and two local Iraqi Kurds in an Erbil restaurant was the handiwork of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Never mind that the PKK has denied responsibility for what appears to be an isolated incident in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital. Never mind too that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) strongly condemned the killing, launched a massive manhunt for the shooter and, with impressive alacrity, arrested the suspected assailant and one accomplice.

But the Turks were looking for some quick Kurdish scalps anyway. Facing humiliation in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, where it has failed to stop Russia and the Syrian government from carrying out near-daily indiscriminate airstrikes, Ankara elected to go after the PKK, an armed group fighting for greater Kurdish cultural and political rights inside Turkey.

With the domestic economy in tatters, the opposition in control of the biggest cities and its NATO allies fuming over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, from now on, likely to be under pressure to play to its nationalist base at every opportunity.

But no matter how often his forces strike suspected PKK bases on Iraqi soil, Erdogan's domestic policy keeps adding insult to Turkish Kurds' injury. His government has kept dozens of pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) members and lawmakers locked up on flimsy terrorism charges. The party's two former co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been in prison for the last several years.

Meanwhile, some Iraqi Kurds who had the “audacity” to unfurl a flag of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region while visiting Turkey’s Trabzon province were attacked by a group of locals and detained by authorities. The district public prosecutor went so far as to issue an arrest warrant for nine of the Iraqis and open an investigation.

The logic of both the ultra-nationalist Turkish mob and their government was probably something like this: When your country’s reputation as a responsible regional power and secular republic has already plumbed unprecedented depths, the demonization of a vulnerable ethnic minority can inflict only so much additional harm.

Still, the actions of the government as well as the residents of Trabzon prove that Ankara’s interest in cementing commercial ties with Erbil should not be mistaken for genuine goodwill. In other words, the KRG would be wise to continue walking a diplomatic tightrope while being conscious of the depth of Turkey’s antipathy towards the Kurdish people.

Just as Turkey renews its pounding of the PKK in the mountains of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) too has upped the ante against its opponents, launching rockets and even drone strikes against Kurdish armed opposition groups along the shared border.

And if the latest shipping shenanigans of the IRGC navy are anything to go by, Iran has taken it for granted that post-Iraq invasion, the US and its Western allies do not have the stomach for another bruising fight.

To the extent that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle have not tried to make an ethnic minority a scapegoat for President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, they deserve to be commended. Unlike Erdogan, who dare not challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin for his military’s participation in the Idlib air raids, Iran’s rulers have openly thrown down the gauntlet to their Western and Gulf adversaries.

Whether or not the US, UK, and Arab Gulf governments also deserve to be commended for their restraint in the face of Iran’s pirate operation in the Strait of Hormuz, it does seem Tehran’s intent is to bring pressure to bear on Washington to retreat from its hard line and, for good measure, lure those countries into a trap that leads automatically to a direct military confrontation.

The near daily harassment or capture of oil tankers by Iran, the sharp escalation in the rhetoric of the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the expressions of support from Iraq's pro-Iran politicians add up to a one-sided declaration of a low-intensity war. How long the other side will tolerate the provocations before the cost to political prestige (and the exchequer) becomes too high remains to be seen.

To be sure, confronting Iran is no easy matter: Tehran and its loyalists thrive on brinkmanship, political polarization, and conflict situations. They also have much less to lose in a war compared to their Gulf neighbours who take pride in their cosmopolitan cities, world-class infrastructure, and first-world living standards. What’s more, unlike its adversaries, Iran has a full menu of options to fight a war, namely through its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Under the circumstance, the Arab Gulf states ought to do what the Kurds have long turned into an art form: to keep calm and carry on – in the hope that the pain of economic sanctions will eventually force the Iranian leadership to come to its senses. But it may take a long time before such a moment comes to pass, and Iran will probably double down on its strategy of hijacking tankers in the meantime.

For Kurds as well as Gulf Arabs, this is no doubt a testing time amid low oil prices, a weak Western appetite for military risk, and the dominance of strongmen and non-state actors. Holding one’s head up high is not easy when one’s enemy is armed to the teeth and raring for a fight. Nevertheless, if an explosion of the Middle East powder kegs is to be averted, pragmatism and patience must necessarily take priority over national pride for the region’s more rational actors.

https://www.rudaw.net/english/opinion/21072019
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The Middle East is sitting on more than one powder keg

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Re: The Middle East is sitting on more than one powder keg

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Jul 21, 2019 9:48 pm

Kurdistan Region arrests man suspected
of killing Turkish diplomat in Erbil


The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced the arrest of Mazlum Dag on Saturday, three days after he was suspected of killing a Turkish diplomat at a restaurant in Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region

"The main perpetrator responsible for the Erbil restaurant shooting on July 17 has now been arrested by the Counter-Terrorism Unit of Kurdistan Region, following a large-scale search operation. He has been named as Mazlum Dag," read a statement from the office of the spokesperson of the KRG on Saturday.

Authorities from the Kurdistan Region and Turkey have repeatedly said they will work together on the investigation.

"We commend the security forces, counter-terrorism unit, and people of Kurdistan, and ensure that operations will continue until all individuals involved in the shooting are arrested and brought to justice," the KRG statement added.

Kurdistan Region security forces provided further details on the arrest.

"We want to inform the public that the criminal Mazlum Dag, whose photo was published two days ago as wanted by the Kurdistan Counter Terrorism Facebook page was detained by the Erbil Asayesh (Security) Directorate and Kurdistan Counterterrorism Unit (Kurdistan CT), is in custody now," read a statement released on Saturday.

Kurdistan CT is a division of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC), overseeing the intelligence and security community.

The security officials also posted a photo of the suspect who appears to have his wrists handcuffed behind his back.

Security officials from the Kurdistan Region later announced that another suspect who is believed to have assisted in the incident is in custody on Saturday.

"One of the Mazlum Dag's accomplices in the terrorist shooting attack in one of the restaurants in Erbil — named Muhammed Biskiz also known as (Dizhwar, Mamand, Yousif) — was detained by Erbil's Asayesh (Security) Directorate and the Kurdistan Counterterrorism Unit (Kurdistan CT)," a statement from the Kurdistan CT said.

No other identifying details about Yousif were immediately available. He also posed in a photo posted by the Kurdistan Region’s authorities.

The arrest follows the killing of an employee of the Turkish Consulate General at a restaurant in a western neighborhood on Wednesday. The KRSC identified Dag as a possible suspect on Thursday.

According to a previous statement by Kurdish counter-terrorism authorities, Mazlum Dag was born in 1992 in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey.

"We want to thank the people of the Kurdistan Region for their support and help, more details to be announced soon," the brief statement posted on Facebook concluded.

Dag is the brother of Dersim Dag, a pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy for Diyarbakir and the youngest MP in the history of the Turkish parliament.

The president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Masoud Barzani, thanked security forces and the people of the Kurdistan Region in light of response to the killing of the Turkish diplomat in Erbil.

"I want to thank the Kurdistan security forces and Kurdistan counterterrorism forces for the speedy detention of the attackers of the terrorist attack..." a statement from Barzani's office read.

The KDP is the largest party in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Its powerbase is Erbil, which takes pride in being a safe locale particularly for foreigners in the Middle East.

"I want to thank the people of Kurdistan for their supportive stance. Once again the people of Kurdistan and security forces proved that Kurdistan will never be an area for terrorists, and there won’t be any criminals who can hide from the eyes of the people of the Kurdistan Region and security forces," Barzani added.

The former president of the Kurdistan Region reiterated that people should not bring their quarrels to the Kurdistan Region.

"I want to inform everybody to keep their problems away from Kurdistan Region and not to harm the people of Kurdistan," he said.

Rudaw reporter Sangar Abdulrahman was shown security camera footage from the scene of Wednesday’s attack, which provided a rough timeline of events.

At around 11:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday, three individuals pulled up in a Toyota Yaris outside the HuQQabaz restaurant in Erbil’s upmarket Empire World complex, where the Turkish diplomat was dining.

After briefly walking around the area they returned to the vehicle and drove away, before returning half an hour later.

Upon their return, the three individuals entered the restaurant. One took a seat next to the Turkish diplomat’s table while the other two sat at a distance, ordering water, tea, and coffee.

When the Turkish diplomat stood up to pay his check, one of the assailants drew a suppressed pistol and shot him in the head. The diplomat died at the scene.

Two Kurdish civilians, Nariman Othman Ali and Bashdar Ramadhan, were shot by a second gunman, also carrying a suppressed pistol. It is not clear whether they were trying to intervene or escape.

Companions of the Turkish diplomat also drew weapons and began shooting. One of the assailants was injured and limped out of the restaurant. The three individuals returned to their vehicle and fled the scene.

The identity of Dag’s two accomplices and the trio’s current whereabouts remained unknown as of Friday.

Link to Article - Photos:

https://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/20072019
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