Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
War watch March 27 , 2014 -- Syria - Report: Al-Qaeda Has Long-Term Plans for Westerners in Syria Pakistan Jihadists Sent to Train Westerners for Attacks Elsewhere , Latakia battles in focus with border areas near Lebanon quieter ...... Turkey -- A leaked voice recording purportedly of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan organizing the dissemination of video footage of former main opposition Republic People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal's adultery has provoked widespread criticism, including from Baykal, who made a statement on Wednesday calling on “Erdoğan and the state to provide an explanation” concerning the leaked audio , Twitter War continues and Erdogan seeking distraction on tomb of Suleyman Sah in Syria ? Iraq violence ahead of elections continues as pollin places hit !
New reports are claiming al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is behind the recent deployment of seasoned jihadists from Pakistan into Syria, and they are part of “long-term plans” that have little to do with Syria itself.
The focus rather is on something else Syria’s civil war has attracted, Western fighters. Jihad-minded fighters with EU or American passports but not much experience have been flocking to Syria to join the Islamist factions there, with over 1,000 on the ground there now.
That’s been a concern for Western officials, and an opportunity for al-Qaeda, which is hoping their better trained fighters in Pakistan can organize and train the Westerners to be sent to launch attacks back in Europe and America, where their passports can get them into places the Pakistanis just can’t go.
Several al-Qaeda factions have seized control of large portions of northern Syria, and the protracted civil war there continues to be a better recruiter than al-Qaeda ever was, allowing them to get access to a lot of Western fighters.
DAMASCUS, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing clashes between the Syrian army and the hardline armed militant groups in Syria's northwestern province of Latakia have claimed the lives of over 500 rebels since Friday, the al-Watan newspaper said Wednesday.
While the intense battles are still raging on in the northern countryside of Latakia, on the border with Turkey, more than 500 rebels were killed, most of them were Saudis and Chechens, the paper said, adding the rebels have failed to seize control of any areas that they have targeted, contrary to what they are claiming on media outlets.
The battles in the northern countryside of Latakia, namely the rugged coastal town of Kasab near the Turkish borders, have started on Friday, when large numbers of armed militant groups infiltrated the Syrian territories from the Turkish side of the borders.
Meanwhile, the al-Watan daily said the rebels are staging hit- and-run attacks in Kasab without achieving any gains on ground.
The paper said that a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden armored vehicle at the military observatory 45 site in Kasab, adding that the blast led to the killing of Colonel Samuel Ghannum, the officer in charge of the observatory site.
Citing military sources, the paper said the troops succeeded in foiling the rebels attack on the observatory and fully secured it after killing 75 of the attackers.
The Syrian artillery is also targeting the positions of the rebels, destroying the rocket launchers that they are erecting on the Syrian territories, the paper added.
Activists said the rebels are fighting in northern Latakia to open a route on the sea to receive weapon shipments after the Syrian troops had deprived them of key smuggling routes from Lebanon in the south.
The battles in Latakia, which are grabbing the headlines of local and foreign media outlets, are important as the area is the ancestral home place of President Bashar al-Assad's family and stronghold of his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The Syrian government has for long accused regional and other countries of supporting the hardline militant groups, mainly the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and other jihadist groups, in their battles to bring down the Syrian administration.
and in contrast ......
Syrian opposition and Assad forces clash over coastal town
A WOMAN WALKS PAST DAMAGED BUILDINGS AT A SITE HIT BY BARREL BOMBS DROPPED BY FORCES LOYAL TO THE EMBATTLED PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD IN THE KARAM HOMAD DISTRICT OF ALEPPO ON TUESDAY. (PHOTO: REUTERS)
26 March 2014, Wednesday /BEIRUT, AP
Syrian rebels and government forces clashed over another coastal town in Latakia province on Wednesday, as opposition fighters slowly pressed their advance in the heartland of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect after seizing a border crossing and their first coastal strip since the uprising began three years ago.
Arab leaders meeting in Kuwait on Wednesday condemned killings carried out by the government in Syria's three-year-old civil war and called for a political settlement. “We condemn in the strongest terms the massacres and the mass killing committed by the Syrian regime's forces against the unarmed people,” said Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah, reading from the final statement issued after the two-day summit. “We call for a political solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with the Geneva One declaration,” it read.
The fighting in the town of Qastal Maaf is part of an assault that began on Saturday in Latakia province by an array of rebels from conservative and Islamic groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.
The province is the ancestral home of the Assad family and the Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot that is one of the main pillars of support for his rule.
Pressure on opposition fighters
Opposition forces were hoping that the clashes would draw more Syrian soldiers to the area, relieving some pressure on the opposition fighters who have been badly weakened elsewhere in the country, said an activist in Latakia who identified himself as Mohammed Abu al-Hassan.
“The thinking is to open a battle that will make the regime rush to fight,” Abu al-Hassan said. “The regime can't imagine losing the sea [of Latakia]. They will bring reinforcements, and that will lessen the pressure [elsewhere].”
Another Latakia-based activist, Abu Salah al-Haffawi, and Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the battles underway Wednesday. The Observatory obtains its information from a network of Syria-based activists.
“So far, it's attacks and retreats, nothing is certain,” said Abdurrahman. There was no government confirmation of the fighting.
Qastal Maaf was another small advance for the rebels.
It lies about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the border crossing of Kassab, which the rebels already seized, severing one of the Assad government's last connections to its northern Turkish neighbor and a predominantly Armenian Christian town of the same name.
It is approximately the same distance from the rocky coastal patch of the village of Samra, which the rebels seized on Tuesday -- their first small foothold by the Mediterranean since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
Late Tuesday, the rebels moved onto Qastal Maaf after seizing a hilltop area known as Observatory 45. Activists said the Observatory 45 was important because it overlooked the mountains of the Latakia where there are dozens of opposition-held villages.
Activist Abu al-Hassan said the Samra coastal strip could be used by rebels to smuggle weapons. He said the sandy shore, backed by rocky mountains was a smugglers point for decades, for its close access to Turkey and the nearby presence of deep water.
The Turkish government has allowed Syrian opposition forces, as well as weapons, to move with relative freedom across the frontier with Syria. Still, Samra has no port, and Syrian military aircraft would likely bomb the opposition trying to use any sea passage.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 140,000 people, displaced at least a quarter of its pre-war population of 23 million and triggered a humanitarian crisis across the region.
In Syria’s Kurdish Regions, Fuel Shortages as Demand Outstrips Supplies
Fuel is produced in makeshift installations in mainly Arab villages. Photo: Carl Drott
RIMELAN, Syria - The oil industry in Rimelan, northeastern Syria, currently stands almost completely still. A few refineries have been constructed, but their output does not nearly cover the needs, causing local people to turn to makeshift production instead.
Melki Hanna, a Syriac Christian, is responsible for the oil extraction facilities in Rimelan. These facilities are now controlled by the autonomous Kurdish government of the Cizire canton, but Hanna and all other state employees still get their salaries from Damascus.
“The management outside of this region was not as big as many believe. We have enough people with expertise and experience to run this,” says Hanna.
Oil from Rimelan used to be pumped to the refineries in Homs and Baniyas, before the pipelines were destroyed by sabotage and fighting. Now, the oil silos in the Cizire region are long since full.
“Another problem is that we cannot repair the machinery when it breaks, as we cannot get any reserve parts here,” says Hanna.
Only 30 out of 1,350 oil wells are being exploited at the moment. The pre-war extraction capacity of 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day is now down to less than 10,000 barrels. Small but adequate refineries have been built to provide fuel for both civilian and military use, but they only have the capacity to handle 6,000 barrels per day.
Petrol from the refineries is sold in service stations at a fixed price of 30 Syrian pounds per liter, which is even lower than the pre-war fixed price set by the Syrian state. However, the fuel tanks in the service stations are nearly always empty. The demand goes far beyond the capacity of the refineries.
Lower-quality fuel is therefore being sold by local Arabs along the roadside. The current price for petrol stands at 65 Syrian pounds per liter, but last year it cost twice or even three times as much. It is said to damage the engine of the car, but there is no other option available.
The fuel is produced in makeshift installations in mainly Arab villages like Gir Hok and Ali Agha, close to Rimelan. The workers there fill up large metal containers with crude oil and heat them under an open fire. Eventually, layers of petrol and diesel emerge, which is poured into plastic bottles or cans.
The production process is thought to result in severe damage to the natural environment as well as to the health of the workers, who inhale the smoke and fumes all day, long with no other protection than a scarf wrapped around the face. There is also an ever-present risk of explosions.
Before May last year, fuel was being exported to the Kurdish regions in Syria from the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Since then all cross-border trade has been stopped.
Turkey shuts off YouTube after 'Syria invasion plan' leak
Published time: March 27, 2014 15:00 Edited time: March 27, 2014 20:28
Access to YouTube has been cut off in Turkey after an explosive leak of audiotapes that appeared to show ministers talking about provoking military intervention in Syria. Other social media have already been blocked ahead of tumultuous local elections.
The latest leaked audio recording, which reportedly led to the ban, appears to show top government officials discussing a potential attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
The tomb is in Syrian territory, but protected by Turkish soldiers.
On the tape, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is heard to say that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees any attack as an "opportunity" to increase Turkish presence in Syria, where it has staunchly supported the anti-Assad rebels. Security chief Hakan Fidan then goes one step further, and suggests staging a fake attack to give Turkey a casus belli to intervene in the conflict.
Turkish officials have recently vowed to protect the tomb as its "national soil."
The Foreign Ministry in Ankara reacted to the tape by issuing a statement, calling the leak a “wretched attack” on national security. It also claims the tape was “partially manipulated.”
"These treacherous gangs are the enemies of our state and people. The perpetrators of this attack targeting the security of our state and people will be uncovered in the shortest time and will be handed over to justice to be given the heaviest penalty," the ministry said.
A source inside the office of President Abdullah Gül, who has taken a softer line than Erdoğan over the series of government leaks, told Reuters that access to YouTube may be restored if the sensitive content is removed, even though the original video has been deleted.
Invoking national security and privacy concerns has been the government’s tactic in fighting off a stream of leaks showing top officials engaging in unsavory or downright illegal practices.
Erdoğan has also repeatedly claimed that most of the audio recordings are fakes. He labeled the latest audio revelation "villainous" during a stump speech in Diyabakir.
Twitter, another popular source for leaks, has already been shut down in Turkey since March 20, after a court order.
Since then, the California-based social network and organizations have fought in several courts to have the decision reversed, calling it “disproportionate and illegal.”
A court ruling in Ankara on Wednesday supported the appeal, but the country’s regulator has a month to unblock Twitter, leading to speculation that any such move would only take place after the election.
The incumbent party also enjoys the benefit of robust privacy legislation passed last month, which makes it easy to cut off any website even before any violation has been legally proven.
The US has led the chorus of international condemnation, calling the government’s moves"censorship" tantamount to “21st century book-burning.”
OSCE slams YouTube ban
Turkey is deliberately ignoring the fundamental right of freedom of the press by blocking access to social media platforms, Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media stated.
“A regulator exercising censorship by blocking is unacceptable in democracies, and it breaches numerous OSCE and other international standards that Turkey has committed to,” Mijatović said.
The OSCE calls on Ankara to immediately restore access to YouTube and Twitter.
“I call on the authorities to preserve the free flow of information and media freedom both online and offline, and immediately restore access to YouTube. I also urge TIB to reinstate Twitter services without delay following yesterday’s court decision annulling the ban on the website,”added Mijatović.
FORMER CHP LEADER DENIZ BAYKAL ANNOUNCES HIS RESIGNATION AFTER A SEX SCANDAL IN 2010. ERDOĞAN EXPLOITED THE TAPE OF BAYKAL IN HIS PUBLIC RALLIES FOR THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS. (PHOTO: TODAY'S ZAMAN, ALI ÜNAL)
26 March 2014, Wednesday /TODAYSZAMAN.COM, İSTANBUL
A leaked voice recording purportedly of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan organizing the dissemination of video footage of former main opposition Republic People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal's adultery has provoked widespread criticism, including from Baykal, who made a statement on Wednesday calling on “Erdoğan and the state to provide an explanation” concerning the leaked audio.
Baykal said he would do what is necessary after Erdoğan's explanation. Speaking to reporters in Afyonkarahisar, where he was visiting as part of the election campaigns, Baykal said, “The picture that was revealed last night is a picture that may not be explained by reason, logic, conscience and the law.”
Baykal called the sound recording a “big satanic scenario” and wanted Erdoğan to immediately offer an explanation for it. “This is a very important starting point to disclose how and where all dirty games stem from in Turkey,” said Baykal.
“It is understood that a legal, democratic and political problem exists,” the former CHP leader said, adding that the new situation is not something that can be covered up, whitewashed or denied with ordinary assertions. “If this event [the leaked audio] is real, these people which plotted it have no right to look in the mirror, to look me in the face. It is impossible for them to keep walking as if nothing has happened,” Baykal said.
Erdoğan rejected the claims in an election campaign speech in Düzce on Wednesday. He said he had ordered his ministers to do everything to remove the video from the Internet. “We are not so shameless to commit such mischief as is prohibited by our beliefs,” said Erdoğan. Erdoğan had made this claim before, but Baykal's lawyers rejected it, saying they had struggled to block access to the video uploaded to the Internet through court orders and that they received little or no help from the government.
The sound recording stirred harsh reactions on social media platforms. Thousands of people on Twitter, access to which was recently restricted by the government, argued that the sex tape intrigue, which compelled Baykal to resign after a massive public scandal in 2010, was plotted by Erdoğan to get rid of his archrival on the political stage.
Erdoğan's voice cannot be heard clearly in the recording, and a note included with the recording states it was intercepted through covert audio surveillance, which explains possibly the noise and scratch interference throughout the sound recording. But in some versions, cleaned up by audio engineers using scratch filters, Erdoğan's words are largely audible. Only the prime minister's voice is heard in the recording.
The leak was uploaded onto YouTube under an account named “DLMHACK,” ostensibly belonging to a leftist group as the logo has a hammer and a sickle in place of the letter D of its name. The YouTube user claimed that they seized the recording from the email account of Erdoğan's adviser Mustafa Varank, hinting that the recording was carried out by the prime minister's own associate in the first place.
In the recording, which seems to be a collage of different speeches, the voice attributed to Erdoğan instructs his men to capture Baykal in flagrante delicto and spread the footage through the media and Internet.
“Unfortunately, there are very indecent and immoral things. There has to be an intervention here. The CHP has gone completely off the rails,” Erdoğan is allegedly heard telling the people in the room.
“We have such things in our hands, a document to be published. If I give it to you, how would you do it? … Are you passing them to websites?” says the voice, and after a pause, possibly a point at which parts of the original recording were edited out, he goes on: “All right, let's do it like this, then. Let me first save it to a hard disk. But the recording is very bad. Can't he [Baykal] say they are fake and this and that ?”
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also lashed out at the prime minister over the allegations during a press conference in Manisa's Akhisar district, accusing the prime minister of being behind the sex tape scandal. Kılıçdaroğlu said such viciousness had not been witnessed in the world, adding that Erdoğan's alleged involvement in the plot was possibly the reason why the actors behind this conspiracy had not been pinpointed yet. “He is the lead actor. A person who brings indecency to these levels may not sit in the seat of the prime minister. This event is yet another version of the US Watergate scandal,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
‘This is public, public'
Erdoğan referred to Baykal's tape in his public rallies during the election campaign in 2011. He refuted Baykal's defense that this action was in the private sphere and was being used as a political instrument, saying it was “not private, this is public, public.”
Speaking at his party's parliamentary group meeting last month, Erdoğan criticized the former CHP leader for his silence over the issue of recordings and videos that have been posted “illegally” on the Internet and called on Baykal to speak out against them. His criticism came after a voice recording allegedly between Erdoğan and his son Bilal emerged in which the prime minister warns his son about cash stashed in several houses. Rejecting the recording as "completely fake," the prime minister vowed in a statement to sue those who orchestrated the "dirty plot."
Erdoğan made this call saying that Baykal should speak out as he was once subjected to and was a victim of a similar plot before he resigned from his party in 2010.
Baykal, however, maintained his stance on the issue and said Erdoğan was mistaken in expecting a supportive attitude from him unless the claims by the prime minister about who is responsible for recording the sex tape are proven true. Erdoğan had blamed the Hizmet movement for the sex tape that forced Baykal to resign from the top post in the CHP. However, when the sex tape first went public in 2010, Baykal rejected claims that Hizmet was involved in the incident.
“I am waiting for the prime minister to share his evidence on this issue before I talk about it,” Baykal said, refusing to put the blame on the Hizmet movement and calling on the prime minister to present evidence of his claims, if such evidence exists.
‘Baykal is no good for Turkey'
“He is such a shameless man and this is no good for the country,” Erdoğan allegedly says in the leaked recording. He instructs his men to make sure that the sex tape is hastily made known to the public. “Start immediately, and upload it onto that thing [a likely reference to the Internet]… We have to give the video [in addition to the audio], too. This is important. Let's also give the rest of the video,” he says.
In another conversation, Erdoğan mentions the video-sharing platform metacafe.com as the place to publish the sex tape and talks about a second tape, asking his associates whether it was also posted online.
The recording also features another conversation believed to have been with his advisers, intending to ascertain the authenticity of news about Baykal's decision to resign from his post. “But look, since these men are coming from a civil servant background, it is very hard for them to solve such a complicated event. They're messing up already.” Erdoğan is also heard saying that a similar plot may also be prepared for Kılıçdaroğlu, who took over the CHP's top seat after Baykal.
Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a CHP deputy chairman, said on his Twitter account that the new audio is a “complete scandal." CHP İstanbul mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarıgül also commented on the allegation that Erdoğan orchestrated the trap to remove Baykal from his post. “If the sound recording leaked yesterday is real, this is a complete disgrace. It is a complete scandal in the political sense, too,” he said.
Renowned investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu claimed the plot against Baykal was due to his strong reaction to the negotiations between the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
A video appeared on several news websites showing Baykal partially clothed in a room with CHP Ankara deputy Nesrin Baytok in 2010, while Baykal was still the leader of the party. The longtime CHP leader heeded insistent calls from both members and supporters of his party and announced in May 11 of the same year that he had decided to step down from his position. During a televised press conference at the CHP headquarters, Baykal said the release of the video was part of a conspiracy against him.
The 15th Ankara Administrative Court on Wednesday issued a stay of execution on Turkey's Twitter ban, saying the ban runs “contrary to the principles of rule of law,” and Twitter shortly after announced that it is also launching legal action against the ban.
The access ban was mainly seen as a response to allegations of corruption against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
The court's ruling is the result of a review of a petition against the ban filed by the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) earlier this week. The court ruled that the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) must stop blocking access to the site.
The TİB still has a right to appeal the stay within seven days, according to the TBB, which also noted that the body has 30 days to enforce the court order. However, the TBB's Güneş Gürseler claimed that since this is not an individual case but a public case, the TİB must lift the block immediately, without waiting for the higher court's decision. It still wasn't clear on Wednesday whether the ban would be lifted.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ criticized the administrative court ruling, saying the TİB is already carrying out court orders, but Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said the government will enforce the court decision.
In a related development, the Constitutional Court, which was expected to review individual applications concerning the country's Twitter ban on Wednesday, deemed it unnecessary to make a decision on the ban following the Ankara court's decision.
In the afternoon, Twitter made a statement on its blog announcing that the company had finally “filed petitions for lawsuits we have been working on together with our independent Turkish attorney over the last few days in various Turkish courts to challenge the access ban on Twitter, joining Turkish journalists and legal experts, Turkish citizens, and the international community in formally asking for the ban to be lifted.” The company's statement also indicated that it knew nothing about some 700 Twitter accounts that Prime Minister Erdoğan says were the subject of court orders.
Twitter said the purported legal basis for the ban is three court orders, “none of which were provided to us [Twitter] prior to the ban,” and a request from a public prosecutor. It said two of the three accounts the court orders related to were deleted as they were also in violation of Twitter rules.
“The last order," it said, "instructed us to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. This order causes us concern. Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption. That's why today we have also petitioned the Turkish court on behalf of our users to reverse this order,” it said.
It said access to this account has been withheld only in Turkey and can still be accessed elsewhere.
The Twitter ban was introduced on Thursday last week, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a public rally that he despises the micro-blogging site. The ban came at a time when several accounts were posting leaked voice recordings allegedly featuring the voices of Erdoğan, some of his family members and the members of his government, which allegedly serve as proof of graft allegations brought against the government by prosecutors on Dec. 17.
Erdoğan spoke on NTV on Tuesday, reiterating earlier threats to shut down YouTube as well. He said some columnists claim he has hurt his reputation with the ban, but added, “I am not losing anything, I [see the proof] at the [crowded] rally squares.”
He said the government is not against Twitter, but against the company's approach to Turkey. He repeated his earlier remarks saying that it was guilty of not deleting accounts as demanded by court order.
Erdoğan also said Twitter had cooperated with the governments of various other countries. He pointed out that authorities and the government in France issued 305 requests for the deletion of 365 accounts, while the US requested 679 requests for the deletion of 948 accounts. He indicated that 75 percent of the accounts had been deleted. “In Germany, Twitter blocked neo-Nazi accounts based on a request from the government. In France, Twitter took action against anti-Semitic and racist tweets and removed such content from the site in 2012. In India, mass messaging was banned due to violence between the Bodo tribe and Muslims, and Google, Facebook and Twitter announced that they would work together with the Indian government,” he said. He also claimed that in 2012, following the riots in London, Prime Minister David Cameron implied that a Twitter ban might be in order, but such a measure was not taken because the riots finally subsided.
Erdoğan said he didn't understand how Twitter could still expect him to act in good faith. “Some people will call the prime minister the ‘prime thief,' call ministers ‘thief ministers' and other things. [Twitter has] been warned, but they are not deleting these accounts.”
"What is this thing you call Twitter? It is a company. You look and see, there is [also] YouTube behind this. They don't have any representatives here, they work through their lawyers,” he said. He reiterated that "Turkey is not a banana republic."
Earlier, Erdoğan and some ministers had referred to several accounts that needed to be deleted. But now the prime minister is saying there are about 700 such accounts. “We will see how they will act [regarding] those accounts that they have been notified of,” he said, adding that if the accounts are removed, the ban could be removed. “There are violations of privacy; there is racism. How can you [Twitter] publish this?”
TURKISH SOLDIERS GUARD THE TOMB OF SÜLEYMAN ŞAH, WHICH IS SITUATED NEAR A TOWN THAT WAS SEIZED BY ISIL AND IS REPORTEDLY UNDER THREAT OF ATTACK. (PHOTO: DHA)
26 March 2014, Wednesday /TODAY'S ZAMAN, ANKARA
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that any attack on the tomb of Süleyman Şah, Turkish territory located within Syria, is tantamount to an attack on Turkey.
Erdoğan, speaking on a news program broadcast by both NTV and Star on Tuesday, said that in the event of any wrongdoing against the tomb, Turkey “will of course do whatever needs to be done.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has threatened Turkey, according to recent press reports, and demanded in a YouTube video that Turkey lower its flag and withdraw within three days its troops protecting the site, which contains the grave of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The video was uploaded on March 20 but has since been removed by YouTube due to its threatening content.
President Abdullah Gül also said on Sunday that Turkey will protect that land just as it would protect its own borders.
“That is our territory under the guarantee of international agreements. Any attack on this territory means an attack on Turkey,” stressed Erdoğan.
The conflict in Syria has on occasion spilled over into Turkey. Following Syria's shooting down of a Turkish jet in 2012, the military's rules of engagement changed, and Erdoğan said any Syrian element approaching the border would be deemed a threat and treated as a military target. Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter last September when it crossed into Turkish airspace. Most recently, Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian fighter jet on Sunday.
Another related development involved trucks heading to Syria that were intercepted in the southern province of Adana. The prime minister said the trucks belonged to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in the Bayır-Bucak area of Syria, but a search of the vehicles produced weapons. Opposition parties strongly criticized the government over the development, prompting Erdoğan to accuse the opposition parties, and in particular the Republican People's Party (CHP), of taking a position “against Turkey, instead of being an advocate of Turkey.”
Turkish gendarmes found also found ammunition in addition to the weapons on the seven trucks they stopped in Adana province in January after receiving a tip that the trucks were transporting arms to Syria, according to media reports.
The trucks, which officials said belonged to MİT, were searched by security officials. A local prosecutor recorded the contents of the truck, but pressure from government officials prevented him from filing criminal charges, according to reports. In addition, Aziz Takıcı, a prosecutor who ordered the search of the trucks, was stripped of his powers to conduct investigations granted under Turkey's counterterrorism laws in late January.
Following the incident Erdoğan said Turkey will continue to give humanitarian aid to the Syrian people in spite of some “treacherous” attempts to sabotage the government's efforts.
Syrian warplane shot down
Erdoğan also made mention of a Syrian warplane shot down on Sunday by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), emphasizing that the rules of engagement state any violation of Turkish airspace will be considered a hostile act and that Turkey will react as necessary.
He said two Syrian MiG-23 warplanes had flown about one-and-a-half kilometers into Turkish airspace on Sunday and that the TSK had informed him. Turkish warplanes then shot down one of the Syrian warplanes. Erdoğan said the Syrian warplanes were going to bomb Kasab, a town on the border with a population of 50-60,000.
“The opposition in Turkey is unfortunately exploiting this issue for political gain. This is ugly. Are we supposed to say ‘Welcome' to those violating our airspace just because we are about to go to local elections?” Erdoğan asked, adding that the Bashar al-Assad regime has killed 160,000 people so far and called Assad a “murderer.”
While the Syrian regime continues to shell Turkish territory, Erdoğan claimed, the opposition in Turkey, mostly the CHP, praises and defends this regime.
“This is a national issue. How can you turn this into a political one? Whose side are you on? What you need to do is to side with the government and the Turkish Armed Forces. The TSK has done what needs to be done there, and if anything like that happens again, the same thing will happen,” Erdoğan said.
The prime minister also added that the number of people coming from Syria to Turkey has reached 760,000 and that Turkey has spent over $3 billion to take care of these people, some of whom were injured in the civil war in Syria.
“Syria is Turkey's neighbor,” Erdoğan said, adding that the relationship between Turkey and Syria was very good up until the street protests in Tunisia in 2010, the start of the Arab Spring. Worried that the protests would spread to Syria, Erdoğan said he had warned Assad and offered Turkey's support.
“We certainly did not expect to see today's Bashar al-Assad. His ways were different then and we have telephone diplomacy taking place. Then the killings started and Assad did not listen to us,” Erdoğan said.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011, with popular street protests against the Assad regime growing quickly nationwide. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, more took to the streets and the once peaceful uprising evolved into a brutal and increasingly sectarian armed conflict.
Polling Centers Attacked in Iraq; 39 Killed, 74 Wounded
The Iraqi government is hoping to find a quick solution to a legal problem that could cause the delay of next month’s election. Meanwhile, at least 39 people were killed and 74 more were wounded across Iraq. Dozens were wounded in attacks against polling stations.
Hoping to stave off an election delay, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked the Independent High Electoral Commissioners to withdraw the resignations they handed in yesterday. He also called on Parliament to amend a law that is the source of the commission’s frustration. One group, however, would like to see the elections delayed until security is better and the amendment goes through. Arabs in Kirkuk have also found fault with the distribution of the voter cards as many voters appear to be registered far from their residences. Kurds and Turkmen in the province would rather see the election take place on schedule.
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – Arabs in Kirkuk are demanding a delay in next month’s Iraqi legislative elections in the multiethnic province, where the Kurds and Turkomans insist the polls must go as planned.
The Arab Political Council wants the polls delayed because of the security situation, and it wants a ban lifted on candidates who want to run.
"Certainly, we demand the postponement of parliamentary elections until an amendment can be made to ensure participation and provide the desired security and confidence in democratic participation," said Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Asai, head of the Arab political Council.
The council, which operates as a representative body for most Arab parties and tribes in Kirkuk, consistently accuses Kurds of engaging in election fraud and attempts to change the demography.
The council statement said that elections should not be held at a time when the security situation in Kirkuk has deteriorated. It said that military operations and terrorist attacks have increased dangerously in Kirkuk.
The council has made similar demands in all previous elections in Iraq since 2003. While no legislative elections have been delayed in Kirkuk, the province has had only one provincial election since 2005, in which the Kurdish brotherhood list won more than 59 percent of the votes and currently has the major administrative posts and the governorship.
The Iraqi Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Kirkuk announced last week that the province has topped all Iraqi provinces in distributing voter smartcards for the eligible voters. According to IHEC, 83,2116 people are eligible to vote and 65,5643 smart cards have been distributed, amounting to 80 percent.
"The Arab component did not get an answer in Kirkuk for many scattered names of the smart cards of voters" said al-Asai, referring for the voters that need to travel to other districts or sub-districts to cast their votes.
"Some (voters) live in a specific region and their names appear in other areas 20 to 70 kilometers away from their places of residence,” he complained.
While in the past Arabs and Turkomans had joined forces in demanding the elections be postponed, now the Turkomans have shifted away from earlier positions.
"Any delay (in elections) means blowing the political process and is a breach of the constitution and the laws of the country," said Tahssin Kahya, a Provincial Council member who is a Shiite Turkoman.
"The Council of Representative would lose its legitimacy by the end of this tenure; we favor conducting elections within its deadline," he added.
"Delay of the election is unconstitutional and election must be held by its deadline," said a Kurdish official in Kirkuk. "Anyone who has complaints, they can submit them to IHEC for investigation," he added.
Kurdish efforts in Baghdad have failed to bring any change in the stance of the legislative and executive branches in Baghdad to hold provincial elections in Kirkuk.
Kurds have constantly accused Baghdad of hindering elections in Kirkuk.
A former advisor of Ayyad Allawi, the leader of the Sunni al-Iraqiya coalition, believes that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki favors a delay in the polls. “It (the election delay) is politically motivated and we think that they (Arabs) have been incited by the prime minister to delay the elections," the official said.
Iraq’s legislative polls are scheduled for April 30. However, the worsening security situation could potentially delay them in Anbar province, where the Iraqi army continues to clash with Sunni insurgents and elements of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Politicians Alarmed by Maliki’s Promise to ‘Avenge’ Journalist’s Death
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following the killing of a journalist by a presidential guard on Saturday in which he vowed to "avenge his blood" has overshadowed the incident and caused a stir among politicians.
“It will be my responsibility to avenge this killing, and blood can only be expiated by blood,” said Maliki as he arrived at the scene of the shooting.
Hamid Mutlaq a member of the parliamentary defense and security committee criticized this comment, saying, “Iraq can not be ruled based on blood for blood because it won't get us anywhere.”
Though some Iraqi and Kurdish officials have said that the killing was “an individual act” and shouldn’t incriminate the entire presidential guard unit, the Iraqi prime minister has personally taken up the case and promised to punish those responsible.
Others believe that the Iraqi prime minister is using the death of Muhammad Bidaiwi, a university professor and head of Radio Free Iraq as a means to get back at the Kurds amid political disputes with Erbil.
In a statement, the Change Movement (Gorran) warned of politicizing the incident and inciting nationalist and sectarian feelings, while demanding a fair trial for the Kurdish officer charged with killing Bidaiwi.
Shortly after the shooting, interior ministry forces arrived at the gates of the presidential compound to arrest the Kurdish guard, which led to a tense standoff between both sides. However, it was reported that the guard was eventually handed over to the Iraqis after talks between Iraq’s First Lady, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed and Prime Minister Maliki.
“The guard has been handed over to the court so that the law takes care of the case,” Jabbar Yawar, chief of staff of the Peshmerga Ministry told Rudaw.
On Sunday there was a call by some Iraqi politicians to expel the Kurdish presidential guards from Baghdad and handing over the task to Iraqi forces. But Brigadier General Kahdar, the commander of the presidential guards toldRudaw that they would only leave on orders from the presidential office.
Kahdar said that the guards are under the Iraqi defense ministry and not the Ministry of Peshmerga as claimed in the media.
“The Bridges 1 and 2 have been in Baghdad for 10 years and have played an effective role in enforcing the law in Baghdad,” he said.
Kahdar said that the presidential guards are hailed as the best military force in Baghdad and that they have been praised by the office of PM Maliki for providing security in the capital.
Kahdar’s version of Saturday’s incident dismissed initial claims that Bidaiwi was killed after he had refused to stop at the presidential checkpoint.
“The journalist who was killed had wanted to drive on the wrong lane of the presidential guard checkpoint, but an officer did not allow him and it later led to a quarrel between him and the officer and the officer killed the journalist,” Kahdar explained.
For his part, Qassim Mashkhati, a Kurdish member of parliament accused the Iraqi authorities of ‘hypocrisy”, saying that they should have taken the case of other journalists killed in the past as seriously.
“The killers of Kamil Shiaa, Hadi Mahdi and Muhammad Abbas who were killed in front of the cameras, should have been talked about too and caused the same uproar,” he said.
Meanwhile in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, a group of Peshmarga officers, civil society and human rights activists gathered in Shanaidar Park to condemn Maliki’s talk of “revenge and blood” and to demand a fair trial for the Kurdish presidential guard.