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Media Observer Releases 2017 Report on Violations Against Journalists

- ba60561c4422ffc0ef2aebc33d8bb27d L - Media Observer Releases 2017 Report on Violations Against Journalists


ERBIL — Kurdistan Region’s Journalists Syndicate published its annual report on violations against journalists in 2017, warning that the violations are on the rise compared to the previous year.

Azad Hama Amin, the head of Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, said during a press conference on Thursday that three assassination attempts were recorded against four journalists throughout the last year.

According to the report, at least 13 offices of media outlets were closed down.

The watchdog pointed out that following the incursion of Kirkuk and other disputed Kurdish areas by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias of Hashd al-Shaabi, cases of violations has rapidly risen. The assassination of Arkan Sharif, a cameraman for Kurdistan TV is an example among many.





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Despite diplomatic efforts, US failed to prevent Turkish operation in Syria – Middle East

- 412615 - Despite diplomatic efforts, US failed to prevent Turkish operation in Syria – Middle East


People hold flags of People’s Protection Unit (YPJ) as they walk during a protest against Turkish attacks on Afrin, in Hasaka, Syria, January 18, 2018. . (photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)

In the forty-eight hours before Turkish aircraft began bombing Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) positions in Afrin, there was a flurry of activity online by Kurdish activists and others warning US officials that the attack was coming.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, responding to Turkish anger over alleged US plans to train a border force in Syria, told reporters on a flight back from Canada on January 18 that “the entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed.” Two days later, Turkish troops attacked Kurdish forces in Afrin in northern Syria, marking a serious escalation in the conflict and opening a new front in the country. It now appears that the US underestimated Ankara’s resolve and has been left playing catch-up.

Over the last several years the US has built an impressive 74-member global coalition to defeat the Islamic State. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition, appointed during the Obama administration, has been retained by the Trump administration, providing continuity on US policy in Iraq and Syria.

However, under Obama, the US never sketched out what its final policy was in Syria as it juggled support for the mostly-Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces alongside its work with Syrian rebel groups, its alliance with Turkey and its attempts at a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict that would see Bashar Assad leave power.

The problem the US has faced is that its allies don’t get along with each other. The Syrian rebels are close to Turkey and oppose both the Syrian regime and the Kurdish YPG. As the war against ISIS wound down in 2017 it became increasingly clear that the US needed a policy to deal with its competing interests – Turkey and the YPG – to stabilize eastern Syria and deal with an increasingly enraged Ankara, whose leaders accuse the US of working with “terrorists” in Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as an arm of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Since 2015, when a cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK broke down, Turkey has waged a major campaign against the party, warning that conflict with the YPG in Syria was coming.

In mid-January, reports emerged that the US was planning to build a 30,000-strong “border force” in Syria. Reports quoted coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon saying the “goal of a final force is approximately 30,000.”

Both the Syrian regime and Moscow condemned the American plans. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders. Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on January 15.

The Wall Street Journal
reported that US officials said the plan for the stabilization force was “poorly conceived, reflecting divisions within the Trump administration over how to shift strategy from the ISIS fight.”

After being accused of training a security force that would target Turkey, the US put out several statements about its intentions. The Department of Defense on January 17 said the US would continue to train local security forces in Syria to stabilize the area and prevent ISIS resurgence.

“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey, our coalition partner and NATO ally,” the Pentagon said. “Turkey’s security concerns are legitimate. We will continue to be completely transparent with Turkey about our efforts in Syria to defeat ISIS and stand by our NATO ally in its counter-terrorism efforts.”

TURKEY SAID its plans for a military assault on the YPG in Afrin were already “complete” by mid-January. The US was in a bind – its allies in Syria were about to be attacked by its other ally in Ankara. Erdogan had said on January 9 that Turkey would prevent the forming of a “terror corridor” along its border, a reference to the YPG linking up Afrin with its holdings in eastern Syria.

Commentators predicted this was another Turkish bluff. However, when it became clear that Ankara was not bluffing, the US-led coalition’s response on January 16 was to say that “Afrin is not located within the coalition’s area of operations.”

At an event at the Hoover Institute on January 17, Tillerson didn’t mention Turkey’s threats against the YPG. However he did emphasize the close partnership between the US and Turkey, with whom he claimed the US was working with to “address Turkey’s concern with PKK terrorists elsewhere.” Tillerson also claimed Al-Qaeda was attempting to re-establish a base of operations for itself in Idlib, near Afrin. But he didn’t mention the word “Kurds” anywhere in his speech.

After the Turkish offensive in Afrin had begun, the State Department’s Heather Nauert said the US understood Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” but was watching developments in Afrin. “The US is very concerned about the situation in northwest Syria, especially the plight of innocent civilians who are now faced with an escalation in fighting.”

Instead of warning off a Turkish attack in Afrin, the US administration appears to lack message discipline and consistency on its Syria policy, with the Pentagon and State Department conducting separate policies while Trump eschews leadership.

The Kurds in Afrin may be bearing the consequences of the US inability to craft a clear policy and Washington’s unwillingness to take Ankara’s threats seriously. Kurds, who fought ISIS alongside the US in Syria, also express frustration that the Americans have abandoned them, which further erodes Washington’s credibility in the region.





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Turkey's preoccupation with Syrian Kurds could spell disaster for US | Patrick Wintour



Turkish tanks advance near the Syrian border  - 1300 - Turkey's preoccupation with Syrian Kurds could spell disaster for US | Patrick Wintour

Turkey’s preoccupation with Syrian Kurds could spell disaster for US

The west cannot afford to lose Ankara’s role as a countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace







Turkish tanks advance near the Syrian border  - 1300 - Turkey's preoccupation with Syrian Kurds could spell disaster for US | Patrick Wintour









Turkey’s incursion into Syria could see it reach a peace deal with Damascus and Moscow.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The US, Britain and France have all strongly criticised the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, but the three countries have so far been unwilling to instruct their Nato partner to pull back.

The low-key stance urging Turkey to minimise casualties probably means Ankara can press ahead with its attempts to drive the Syrian Kurds out of Afrin province in north-west Syria.

The problem for the west is that, as an endgame possibly approaches in Syria, it cannot afford to lose Turkish diplomatic support since Ankara has been the vital countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace.

The Turkish preoccupation with the Syrian Kurds on its borders could lead to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reaching a deal with Damascus and Moscow.

That would represent a disaster for the US only a week after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, committed the Trump administration to a political solution in Syria that involved the ultimate removal of Bashar al-Assad and Iranian-led militias.

The speech – in which the UK Foreign Office had a big hand – was something of a watershed and was under-appreciated in Europe. Previously, Trump’s policy on Syria was simply the destruction of Isis and an aversion to talk of nation-building. But the Tillerson speech has been widely criticised because it was long on aspiration but short on detailing the credible levers the US and the west have to pressure Moscow to abandon Assad.

Western diplomats say they have some stakes in the ground: the threat to withhold EU and US reconstruction funds, the promise to keep 2,000 US troops inside Syria indefinitely and a slightly confused commitment to help the Kurds form a border force inside northern Syria. British ministers also repeatedly warn that a Russian-imposed peace that simply leaves Assad in charge would not only be morally reprehensible but unstable.

Kurds in Syria

But the value of all these levers is immeasurably diminished if they lack the support of Turkey, the long-term supporter of the Syrian opposition in the seven-year civil war.

If Turkey instead sides with Moscow, Russia will be able to press ahead with its political solution for Syria to be launched at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, an event co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran and due to be held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on 29-30 January.

The west fears Vladimir Putin regards Sochi as an alternative to the UN-led peace talks, and an assertion of Russian authority across the Middle East. It could also be a means of rubber-stamping an agreement that leaves Assad in charge with some minor changes to the Syrian constitution.

In an attempt to retain the primacy of the UN process and achieve a broadly acceptable long-term political outcome, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is to hold two sessions of talks either side of Sochi, the first on 25-26 January.

The Sochi conference has repeatedly been postponed by Moscow, mainly because Turkey has objected to any invitation being extended to the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey regards the YPG as inextricably linked to the Kurdisstan Workers’ party inside Turkey.

But the events of the past few days suggest Turkey and Russia may be close to a deal. Turkish military officials travelled to Moscow ahead of the Turkish invasion to extract guarantees that the Russian air force inside Syria would not attack Turkish units. On Monday Moscow then announced that Kurdish representatives would be invited to Sochi, without detailing the precise identity of those delegates.

The outlines of a deal are discernible – in which Turkey backs a Russian peace process and Moscow tacitly accedes to a Turkish drive to weaken the Syrian Kurds on its borders.

The US can argue it tolerated Kurdish territorial expansions across northern Syria, and specifically west of the Euphrates river, only so long as the Kurdish militias inside theSyrian Democratic Forces were needed to defeat Isis, but now that battle has been won the US priority is to stop the freefall in its relations with Turkey. If that means a temporary Turkish foothold in the patchwork that is Syria, so be it.



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Social media crackdown on citizens, lawmakers follows Turkey’s attacks on Afrin

- AfrinReu - Social media crackdown on citizens, lawmakers follows Turkey’s attacks on Afrin


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish authorities launched investigations on Monday against scores of people—among them journalists, writers, and lawmakers—and arrested dozens of others over their criticism on social media of Ankara’s invasion of the Kurdish region of Afrin in northwestern Syria.

The chief public prosecutor’s office in Istanbul announced probes targeting 57 individuals for the crimes of “propaganda in support of a terror group, inciting public hostility, insulting the President, and sharing content that contravenes realities.”

Over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke harshly of those daring to protest his army’s aerial and ground attacks on the isolated Kurdish enclave where Turkish airstrikes have killed dozens, among them civilians and fighters of the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG).

He vowed to “pulverize” them, directing his words also at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an opposition bloc already bracing an ongoing crackdown since late 2016 that saw its Co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, nine lawmakers, 80 mayors, and thousands of members imprisoned.

In the Kurdish province of Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Mus, police arrested at least 30 people.

Journalist Nurcan Baysal and local co-head of HDP’s branch in Diyarbakir’s Bismil district Refai Baran were detained in midnight raids for their tweets and Facebook posts in support of the people of Afrin.

Three other journalists and authors, Ishak Karakas, Aziz Tunc, and Ismail Eskin, were also taken into custody by Istanbul police.

According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, prisons across Turkey are home to over 160 reporters, photographers, writers, and other media workers.

Elsewhere, in Van, on the border with Iranian Kurdistan, the public prosecutor began probes against four HDP lawmakers representing the province at the Turkish Parliament.

In Dersim, MP Ali Oncel was the target of another Ankara-appointed prosecutor.

HDP Spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen and Hakkari MP Nadir Yildirim were already under investigations for their tweets regarding the Afrin offensive.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany



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