Greater Middle East

Turkey slips toward internal war

As Turkey continues to bomb Kurdish anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq, violence is quickly spreading within Turkey itself. Two assailants—apparently both women—opened fire on the US consulate building in Istanbul on Aug. 10, fleeing the scene when police shot back. One of the assailants was captured in a building where she took shelter. She has been identified as a member or the armed-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C). (Hurriyet Daily News) Elsewhere in Istanbul, an officer was killed in clashes after a car-bomb attack on a police station. In southeastern Sirnak province, four police officers were killed by a roadside bomb and a soldier died as gunmen fired on a military helicopter. (BBC News)

Suez Canal expansion amid regional war

Egypt formally opened an expansion to the Suez Canal on Aug. 6, amid pomp and spectacle. The first ship passed through the new waterway only after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, clad in a military uniform, made his entrance by sailing in on the same yacht that was used at the inaugural bash when the canal first opened in 1869. Performers dressed as pharaohs blared patriotic songs from the shore, as demonstrators filled Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate. Among the dignitaries in attendance for the lavish ceremony were King Abdullah II of Jordan and French President Francois Hollande. "The Egyptian people are rewriting history," said the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, Adm. Mohab Mamish. "If the people long for life, then destiny must respond." The project, built in just one year and hailed in the national media as "Egypt's gift to the world," is projected to boost revenues from the Suez Canal from $5.3 billion in 2014 to $13.2 billion in 2023.

Turkey in new crackdown on ISIS —and PKK

News that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to launch raids against ISIS forces in Syria from Incirlik Air Base comes one day after a border skirmish in which a Turkish solider was killed by presumed ISIS fire from the Syrian side and Turkish forces responded with tank shells. Turkey is also reported to have scrambled fighter jets to the border after the clash, which took place at the border town of Çobanbey, Kilis province. (Reuters, CBC, Daily Sabah, July 23) Since the border incident, Turkey has also launched mass sweeps, arresting more than 290—but targeting supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as ISIS. One death is also reported in the sweeps—a militant of the armed left faction Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), who apparently resisted arrest in a raid in Istanbul. Mainstream Turkish sources provided no breakdown as to how many of the detained were jihadists as opposed to radical leftists, but pro-PKK sources reported at least 60 of their followers among the detained. Some of the raids on PKK followers and sympathizers were in Suruç—the border town which was four days ago the scene of an ISIS suicide attack that left some 30 dead at a meeting called by leftist parties to organize solidarity for the anti-ISIS resistance in northern Syria. (Hurriyet Daily News, ANF, July 24)

Pentagon claims kill of 'Khorasan Group' leader

The Pentagon announced July 22 that Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al-Qaeda operative from Kuwait, was killed on two weeks earlier "in a kinetic strike" while "traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria." Al-Fadhli was a leader of al-Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan Group," a cadre of veteran militants now based in Syria. The Khorasan Group has been "plotting external attacks against the United States and its allies," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. The statement acknowledged that al-Fadhli survived air-strikes on Khorasan Group targets in September 2014. According to US officials, the Khorasan Group is made up of operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya and North Africa who were ordered to Syria by al-Qaeda "emir" Ayman al-Zawahiri. Among al-Fadhli's missions was reportedly the failed effort to reconcile the Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front with ISIS. (Long War Journal, July 22)

Turkey: ISIS terror blast targets solidarity meeting

A suicide bomb attack in the southern Turkish town of Suruc killed at least 30 people and injured some hundred more during a meeting of young activists to organize solidarity with the reconstruction of the neighboring town of Kobani across the Syrian border. The explosion took place during a press conference under a banner reading (in Turkish), "We defended it together, we're building it together." The 300-strong meeting was organized by the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), linked to Turkey's Socialist Party of the Oppressed, at Suruc's Amara Culture Center. Anarchists and other supporters of the Rojava Kurds were also in attendance, and among the dead. (BBC News, Rudaw, Hurriyet Daily News, Revolución Real Ya Facebook page, July 20) Street clashes broke out with police after the blasts, with youth chanting "Erdogan is a killer!" and "Martyrs are immortal!" Police used water cannons to disperse the angry crowd. The clashes reportedly started when police arrived on the scene in an armored vehicle even before ambulences, blocking the street and aiming their rifles at survivors. (Rudaw, NBC, Black Rose)

North Korean troops fight in Syria?

We aren't sure whether to believe it, and it seems not to have been reported elsewhere, but the pro-opposition Syria Mirror website on July 20 says that activists and eye-witnesses have "confirmed" that five buses full of fully armed North Korean soldiers were seen in Damascus, heading towards Jobar and Eastern Ghouta—two suburbs that have been the scene of fierce fighting for months. The account claims Bashar Assad has long maintained a sort of Praetorian Guard of North Korean troops in a special unit dubbed "Tshulima"—supposedly named for a mythical winged horse, although we can find no reference to either the unit or the mythical beast online. The report also notes longstanding claims of North Korean involvement in the Assad dictatorship's nuclear program

Bahrain releases ailing rights advocate

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on July 13 released the president of the Bahrain Center for Human RightsNabeel Rajab, citing health reasons. Despite the release, the US State Department and Rajab himself expressed concern over continued efforts to limit free speech in the country. The State Department said recent events, including the re-arrest of opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, detention and prosecution of Bahraini opposition figure Majeed Milad, and reopening of a case against Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq political opposition group, all threaten the "universal right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a party."

Syria: Alawites clash with regime, Iran troops

Lebanon Now reported July 7 that Syrian regime forces backed by Iranian troops clashed with residents of two Alawite villages outside Hama following a wave of mass arrests in the area. Residents of al-Bared and al-Qahira villages—populated by members of the Alawite and the Alawi-offshoot Murshidi sect—staged a local uprising, in which one government solider was killed. The villages have since been surrounded by regime and Iranian forces. The sweeps that set off the clashes were reportedly ordered by an Iranian field commander. The arrests of residents suspected of hoarding or selling black-markey fuel were carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guards backed up by regime military intelligence troops.

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