Why Turkey needs to take ISIS threat seriously
October 31st, 2014
01:10 PM ET

Why Turkey needs to take ISIS threat seriously

Aki Peritz and Joshua W. Walker, Special to CNN

Aki Peritz is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and coauthor of Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda. You can follow him @akiperitz. Joshua W. Walker is a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He previously served as a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed are their own.

The beleaguered Kurds, fighting a desperate battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Kobane, Syria, are finally receiving reinforcements. A small contingent of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga are reportedly crossing Turkey to help defend their ethnic compatriots battle this existential threat.

But Turkey’s leaders are probably not thrilled with their reluctant decision to let Iraqi Kurds join the fight in Syria. Indeed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this month made his feelings about fighting ISIS crystal clear. “For us,” Ergodan reportedly said, “the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK] is the same as ISIL (ISIS). It is wrong to consider them as different from each other."

While this might make sense from a Turkish-nationalist perspective – after all, Turkey has been fighting the PKK for over a generation – this suggests incredible short-sightedness on Ankara’s part. Turkey must place a far higher priority on fighting ISIS because the group, with its global ambitions, poses a far greater threat to the integrity of the Turkish state than a Kurdish Marxist organization ever will. FULL POST

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Topics: Turkey
Zakaria: Iraq's army has collapsed
October 13th, 2014
10:31 PM ET

Zakaria: Iraq's army has collapsed

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about reports over new advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is an edited version of the transcript.

There is reportedly one base remaining in Anbar Province under Iraqi control. Talking to a general, he said it isn't so significant. You disagree.

It's very significant. It’s not significant militarily, because Baghdad will hold for reasons we can talk about. What's significant here is that it tells you that the Iraqi army has collapsed, that there’s no real Iraqi army. Because those bases where people are giving up, surrendering, these are all Sunnis who don't want to fight ISIS, Sunnis who don't want to fight fellow Sunnis.

What you're seeing is that if you scratch the surface of the Iraqi army, it's a bunch of sectarian militias, and the Sunnis will not fight against ISIS because they don't like the Baghdad government.

They don't have that regard for a nation. It's like a sect nation.

They think at this point the Iraqi government is being run by Shia. And so they in a sense don't like ISIS, but they like the Shia government in Baghdad less. So what we have to come to grips with is, this army that doesn't really exist. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • ISIS • Turkey
September 26th, 2014
07:45 PM ET

Zakaria: Turkey key to anti-ISIS strategy

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the vote in the British parliament, by 524 votes to 43, to authorize airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

I think many people might have actually thought Britain was already on board for airstrikes in Iraq. We're not talking about Syria. We're talking about Iraq. The significance of this?

It’s very significant, particularly the size of the vote. Britain has been with the United States in almost every military struggle it's had really for decades and decades. But militarily, it's not as significant as you might think.

The crucial issue is the fight between the Syrian Kurds and ISIS that is now taking place very close to the Turkish border. The crucial question becomes, will Turkey get involved? Because if Turkey gets involved, you have a very large country with a very serious army with lots of ground troops that could take on the battle with ISIS.

So far, they’ve been unwilling to do it, for two reasons. One, they're very close to the border, and they worry about ISIS retaliating. But most importantly, there were 49 Turkish hostages that ISIS had. They have been released, and Prime Minister Erdogan said at a meeting that I was at last week that there was no political deal made with ISIS. FULL POST

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Topics: ISIS • Turkey • United Kingdom
Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced
August 26th, 2014
02:38 AM ET

Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria, traveling in Bodrum, Turkey, about recent developments in Iraq. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What do you make of the growing international alarm over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?

The level of concern about ISIS is very deep, and very different from what I heard only a few months ago. There’s a sense that ISIS has become what al Qaeda always wanted to be. Remember, the world al Qaeda means base. Since 2001, al Qaeda really hasn’t had a base. It's been running around in mountains and caves.

ISIS is developing a very large, deep and sophisticated base. It has a financial base, by some estimates making $1 million a day. It has the ability to sell oil and wheat at a bargain. And of course it has this extraordinary military capacity. That military capacity is morphing in the wake of American air strikes. It’s moving from an open ground strategy, taking towns, to a guerilla strategy, hiding within towns. A kind of Hamas strategy. But all in all, if you look at that this, this is the most significant terrorist organization I think we’ve really ever faced.  FULL POST

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Topics: Terrorism • Turkey
August 5th, 2014
03:02 PM ET

Turkey's debate on women no laughing matter

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Laughter can be the best medicine – but can it cure misogyny?

Last week, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave a speech that sparked a massive social media reaction. Women, he said, shouldn't burst out laughing in public, should know what is appropriate, and should preserve their "chastity." So women shouldn't laugh out loud, and men, he said, shouldn't be womanizers. (Not really equivalent moral standards…)

Hundreds of women responded by posting pictures of themselves laughing in public. There were more than 160,000 Tweets following the comments, using the Turkish words for "laughter," "resist laugher" and "women defy."

The oppression of women in Turkey isn’t a laughing matter, of course. A 2009 report found that 40 percent of Turkey's female population had suffered domestic violence.

This week, the first round of the presidential election begins, and a top challenger to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (who is a favorite for the presidency) tweeted about the incident, saying women in Turkey needed to laugh more, not less. But Arınç stood by his comments, suggesting people focused too much on that part of his speech.

Well, if you say something absurd, condescending, and demeaning to 50 percent of your population, don't be so surprised if people focus on it!

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Topics: Last Look • Turkey
Iraq is on a precipice
June 12th, 2014
09:12 AM ET

Iraq is on a precipice

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. The views expressed are his own.

Iraq is on a precipice from which it may never recover. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to forces ostensibly from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may simply be the tip of the iceberg. What has happened in Iraq increasingly appears not simply to be a binary struggle between government and insurgent, but rather a more complicated problem that may be impossible to fully unravel.

I drove from Tikrit through Beiji to Mosul earlier this year, and into Syria along the same roads ISIS and other insurgents now use. Even then, government control over Mosul was tenuous. Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints on the outskirts of town urged me and my driver to reconsider my trip because Mosul was not safe; they relented only because a local vouched for me. After all, while Tikrit was home to former President Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage, Mosul was the hometown of much of Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. It still is. As I continued on to the Syrian border, a special security agent at a checkpoint separated me from my taxi driver and another man accompanying us to ensure that I was there of my own free will. A senior security official in Baghdad subsequently told me that was standard protocol. It also reflects, however, the lawlessness of that area.

While Americans focus on the shock of al Qaeda flags over Mosul, Iraqis describe a more complicated scene. One Iraqi reported that insurgents in Mosul told his brother that they were not al Qaeda, but rather veterans of Saddam’s army. Rumors are rife throughout Mosul and Tikrit that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s vice president and the most senior official of the previous regime who evaded American capture, has returned from Syria and is leading renewed insurgency.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Terrorism • Turkey
How world can respond to Syria's refugee crisis
May 12th, 2014
02:09 PM ET

How world can respond to Syria's refugee crisis

“The Syrian crisis crashed onto neighboring Turkey’s doorstep three years ago and the humanitarian, policy and security costs continue to rise,” the International Crisis Group notes in a new report. “Ankara needs to find a sustainable, long-term arrangement with the international community to care for the Syrians who arrive daily.”

But what could a long-term solution look like? Didem Akyel Collinsworth, Turkey and Cyprus analyst for International Crisis Group's Turkey/Cyprus Project, answers readers’ questions on the issue.

What are the conditions like for Syrian refugees?

According to official numbers, Turkey has already received nearly one third of all the Syrian refugees in the region. Around 220,000 of these 720,000 people are in 22 refugee camps in Turkey. The camps have high standards compared to similar shelters around the world; some international experts refer to them as the world’s best refugee camps. In addition to food and shelter, they provide healthcare, schools and other types of assistance. Nonetheless, they are an emergency response, expensive to build and run, and simply not enough to host the continuous inflow. Most of the new arrivals therefore add to a growing “urban Syrian” population inside Turkey; these are officially around 500,000 but unofficial estimates reach one million. Some of them have the means to support themselves financially but most are destitute and in need of assistance.

There are ad-hoc efforts by Turkey’s government and other countries as well as several international and local agencies and NGOs to help them, but these are currently not enough. In the southeastern Turkish provinces along the border, Syrians have a hard time finding accommodation and access to sustained aid. In February, we met new arrivals who had fled the barrel bombings in Aleppo and who were now living out in the open in makeshift tents in Turkey’s border Kilis Province because they couldn’t afford or find housing. Even for people with accommodation, conditions are difficult – we talked to a group of around 20 people living in a bare, one-bedroom apartment with no furniture or heating.

FULL POST

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
What next for Turkey's Syrian refugees?
May 5th, 2014
10:18 PM ET

What next for Turkey's Syrian refugees?

“The Syrian crisis crashed onto neighboring Turkey’s doorstep three years ago and the humanitarian, policy and security costs continue to rise,” the International Crisis Group notes in a new report. And, with some 720,000 Syrian refugees and nearly $3 billion in spending, frustration and fatigue are growing. “Ankara needs to find a sustainable, long-term arrangement with the international community to care for the Syrians who arrive daily.”

But what could a long-term solution look like? And how effective has Turkey’s response been? Didem Akyel Collinsworth, Turkey and Cyprus analyst for International Crisis Group's Turkey/Cyprus Project, will be taking readers’ questions on the issue. For more background, watch ICG in the field here.

Please leave your questions in the comment section below.

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
Turkey's political crisis undermining democracy
March 21st, 2014
01:27 PM ET

Turkey's political crisis undermining democracy

By Bayram Balci, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bayram Balci is a researcher at CERI Sciences-Po in Paris and a visiting scholar in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The recent disclosure of tapes allegedly implicating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a massive corruption scandal is the just the latest development in Turkey’s ongoing political crisis. But even as the rivalry between an increasingly autocratic prime minister and the shadowy Gülen movement deepens, there could yet be light at the end of the tunnel.

A previous, uneasy, coalition between the AK Party and the Gülen movement – led by U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gulen – started to implode in December following the surprise arrests of the sons of three cabinet ministers over claims of bribery and the rigging of state tenders.

Undermined by widespread criticism and high-profile court cases, Erdoğan has raised the specter of a political plot being fomented from the United States. With Gülen’s supporters issuing arrest warrants and investigating alleged corruption among Erdogan’s allies, the prime minister has used suggestions of a plot to justify purges and political reshuffling within the police and judiciary.

FULL POST

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Topics: Turkey
September 23rd, 2013
05:12 PM ET

Gul: Turkey very active on Syria issue

Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul about the situation in Syria.

Are you disappointed that President Obama has chosen not to take some kind of military action in Syria? Your government has been urging military action for a long time.

No, it's not the military action. In fact, of course, the military action is the last resort. But what we insisted is that there should be a comprehensive political strategy first. This is missing from the very beginning

But a lot of people look at Turkey's policy, which has been support for the rebels, very tough against Assad, urging that he leave, and say that you have not been able to help create a real political opposition, unify the rebels, find the moderates. That while for two years this has been the effort, there isn't that much to show for it.

Yes, well, I think I have to remind first that at the beginning, we worked hard to find out a peaceful solution for this. At least six months, we worked very hard. We visited several times. But unfortunately, there was no response. There was no real response at the time.

It's not the problem of Turkey, first of all, but we are the neighbor. So what’s happening in Syria is having consequences – immediate consequences – on Turkey. Therefore, Turkey is very active in this issue. And this should not be misunderstood that Turkey wishes war or Turkey wishes the attack on Syria. That is not correct.  What we want to see is that this situation should not continue like this. If this continues like it, everything is going to go bad there.

FULL POST

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
Why limited Syria strike could hurt Turkey
September 11th, 2013
09:29 AM ET

Why limited Syria strike could hurt Turkey

By Sinan Ülgen, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sinan Ülgen is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. Twitter @sinanulgen1. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Democracy can get in the way of a good war in the Middle East, a reality underscored by the diminishing U.S. public support for intervention in Syria. But the ongoing discussions in Washington over how to respond to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons aren’t just being watched closely in Washington and Damascus. In Turkey – Syria’s neighbor and in the vanguard of the struggle against the al-Assad regime – the outcome of deliberations on an attack are critical. Indeed, while the West looks increasingly wary of military action, there are serious concerns in Ankara that Turkey’s security could be put at risk by a U.S.-led strike that is too limited in scope.

Turkey has diligently defended the idea of regime change in Syria prior to the alleged chemical weapons attack. Having rightfully desisted from a unilateral intervention, Turkey has focused its efforts on strengthening the opposition. Ankara has given substantial diplomatic and logistical – as well as more recently military – support to the Syrian rebels. But Ankara’s overt antagonism toward Damascus has started to exact a heavy toll.

FULL POST

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
Zakaria: Syria regime change won't end civil war
September 3rd, 2013
09:54 AM ET

Zakaria: Syria regime change won't end civil war

Fareed speaks with CNN about the situation in Syria, the Obama administration's response to the crisis, and what could happen if Bashar al-Assad's regime falls.

You wrote a strong column in which you said the Obama administration's handling of Syria was, in your words, a case study of “how not to do foreign policy.”

Well, the president has tried to have it both ways. For two years, he has been resiliently resisting calls to jump into the cauldron that is Syria. In my opinion, wisely. Syria is a very deep, complex, largely internal, largely sectarian struggle. I'm not sure what U.S. military intervention can do. But at the same time, the president has wanted to seem to be doing something or seem to be setting up these red lines which he talked about far too casually.

And, you know, he strived to, at the same time, be a realist and be a humanitarian. And it's a little difficult to do. And it's perhaps easier to do in Syria. But right now what you're seeing is the fruit of that because a lot of what U.S. foreign policy over the last six months has been is devoted to trying to make sure the president's red line language doesn't appear to be an empty threat. And so, he might have spoken carelessly. We are now in danger of using military force carelessly to make sure that there isn't hypocrisy there.

FULL POST

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Topics: Civil War • Syria • Turkey
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