News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq… PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
These development also come as the ceasefire between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish state, increasingly shaky in recent months, has definitively broken down. The PKK's armed wing, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), says it has responded to "Turkish army attacks with heavy weaponry." The clashes mostly appear to have been in Turkey's eastern Hakkari province and the Kandil Mountains along the Iraqi border. (KurdishInfo, Rojava Report) A presumed PKK car-bomb attack on a military convoy in Lice, Diyarbakir province, also killed two soldiers. (BBC News, July 26)
In a great case of bad timing (for Turkey's rulers), the new fighting comes as French prosecutors have asserted that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) was behind the assassination of three PKK representatives in Paris in 2013. "Numerous elements allow us to suspect the implication of the MIT in the instigation and preparation of the murders," reads the prosecutors' report, which adds that accused killer Ömer Güney was acting as a spy and was in contact with a number of MIT agents. (JIN News Agency) This took place when the ceasefire with the PKK, declared in 2012, was officially in place. To ask the all too obvious question: Who are the "terrorists"?
As we stated a couple of days ago, when the intervention looked imminent: This is the moment for urgent pressure on the Turkish state. There must be no crackdown on the PKK and allied forces in the hideously ironic guise of a crackdown on their bitter enemy ISIS. That imperative has just become a lot more urgent.