Turkey to keep military posts in Idlib after Syrian government attacks

Turkish military vehicles drive in a convoy along the Bab Al-Hawa highway on May 21, 2019 on their way to reinforce Turkish military observation points in the southern countryside of Syria’s Aleppo province. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019

Turkey to keep military posts in Idlib after Syrian government attacks

  • Syrian government forces have carried out at least three attacks near a Turkish observation post in the Idlib de-escalation zone
  • ‘The Turkish Armed Forces will not retreat from where it is located’

ANKARA: Turkey will not evacuate its military observation post in northern Syria’s Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the region, after a suspected Syrian government attack this month, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency has said that Syrian government forces have carried out at least three attacks near a Turkish observation post in the Idlib de-escalation zone, one of 12 posts set up under an agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran last May.
“Evacuating the observation post in Idlib after the regime’s attack is definitely not happening, it won’t happen anywhere,” Akar told reporters late on Tuesday.
“The Turkish Armed Forces will not retreat from where it is located.”
More than 3 million people live in Idlib and surrounding areas, including many who fled government advances in other parts of Syria in recent years.
At least 180,000 people have fled an upsurge in violence in northwest Syria, and government bombings have killed dozens in the past three weeks.
Since last year, the region has been partly shielded in a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey, but much of the recent fighting has hit that buffer zone.
The possibility of an Idlib offensive has drawn warnings of yet another humanitarian catastrophe, with the United Nations warning that up to 2.5 million people could flee toward the Turkish border in such a scenario.
“The regime is doing its best to disrupt the status quo, using barrel bombs, land offensives and air bombings,” Akar said, adding that 300,000 people had been displaced due to the conflict in the past month.
Akar said the beginning of a “new tragedy” had been prevented and he had discussed preventing a new wave of migrants into Turkey with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.


Tension between Iraq defense minister and Iranian-backed faction peaks

Updated 22 November 2019

Tension between Iraq defense minister and Iranian-backed faction peaks

  • ‘Third party’ accused of killings as documents show ministry had tear gas canisters in warehouses imported from Serbia

BAGHDAD: Tension between Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari and several Iranian-backed armed factions peaked on Thursday after documents emerged showing the Iraqi Defense Ministry had tear gas canisters in its warehouses imported from Serbia years ago.

Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing anti-government demonstrations since Oct. 1.

More than 300 demonstrators have died and about 16,000 have been injured so far, mostly in Baghdad, by tear gas and live bullets used by Iraqi forces to quell the protests.

In an earlier television interview, Al-Shammari said Iraqi security forces had not shot at demonstrators and that orders since October had been clear that no live bullets should be used to deal with the protesters.

Al-Shammari also said tear gas that killed dozens of demonstrators after they were hit directly in the head and chest by canisters was not imported by the Iraqi government. 

He accused a “third party” of killing the demonstrators.

“Third parties fired (at the demonstrators) in an attempt to make the conflict seem between security forces and demonstrators,” Al-Shammari said.

“A third party has been killing protesters and security forces.”

Since the start of the protests, the majority of Iraqis have used specific words to describe the demonstrators, security forces, and armed factions supporting the government.

The “third party” is the description used to describe Iranian-backed factions to differentiate between them and security forces, often referred to as the “second party,” while describing the demonstrators as the “first party”.

“Third party” became a term of ridicule after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi unintentionally used it several times in a statements to shirk responsibility for killings, kidnappings and arrests of protesters, activists, journalists and even officials.

The defense minister’s allegations have angered a number of Iranian-backed armed factions and their associated security and military leaders.

He has also faced charges of forgery, manipulation of official records and lying.

On Thursday, the Resistance Media Network, a group of Iranian-funded channels, distributed documents revealing that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense had imported tear gas, smoke and sound bombs, rifles and other riot gear from Serbia under a contract entered into by the Ministry with Yugo Import SDPR in 2007.

Another document revealed the quantity and types of equipment and weapons used by riot police and government-affiliated forces during the past seven weeks, starting from Sept. 30 to Nov. 18, clearly indicating that the Ministry of Defense forces used thousands of tear gas canisters during that period.

Similarly damaging for the defense minister were links to press reports in the Swedish media about Al-Shammari, indicating that the minister, who has been living in Sweden since 2007 and holds  Swedish citizenship, is registered there as exempt from work and taxes, and enjoys a pension and free health care as a result of poor mental health.

Iraqi security and military figures have confirmed the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and field commander of Iranian operations in Iraq in the suppression of demonstrators.

“The minister is under tremendous pressure now,” a senior military commander told Arab News. “He revealed their (Iranian-backed factions) involvement in the killing of protesters. Although he did not name them, it was clear who was meant by the ‘third party’.

“To be honest, he (Al-Shammari) refused to use violence against demonstrators when he was asked to do so. Then these statements came out to destroy his political future.

“They (Iranian-backed factions) decided to terminate him politically, so these files began to appear both inside and outside Iraq.”