MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : Erdogan: ‘Nothing will stop us’ if Syrian Kurds do not leave Manbij

“If the terrorists in Manbij are not removed in the next few weeks, our waiting will nd,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week. He added, “We will go our own way and nothing will stop us from implementing our plans, including a sanctions list,” Jasper Mortimer reports.

“Turkey reached an agreement with the United States for the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij last year,” writes Mortimer. “But despite [US President Donald] Trump’s announcement in December that US forces would pull out of Syria, the town continues to be controlled by US troops and the allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — of which the YPG is the largest component. … Similarly, Turkey says the Americans have not done enough toward setting up a safe zone along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey, a zone free of the YPG.”

“If the US does not contribute to a safe zone under the control of Turkey, we will take the matter into our own hands,” Erdogan said. “We don’t accept any other formula than a safe zone where Turkey has control and other countries provide logistical support.”

The Pentagon is planning to withdraw all US troops from Syria by the end of April, according to current and former officials, and reported in The Wall Street Journal.

“Turkey finds itself in an increasingly difficult situation on two fronts in Syria,” explains Semih Idiz. “Its key priorities have boiled down to trying to keep Russian and Syrian regime forces out of Idlib on the one hand and securing the departure of US forces from Manbij and territories east of the Euphrates River on the other. … The two topics will continue to drain Turkey’s diplomatic energies in the coming weeks and months and require subtle negotiations with the United States and Russia if Ankara is to make any headway in its plans for northern Syria.”

“Moscow continues to complain that the memorandum agreed upon between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2018 for Idlib is not working,” writes Idiz. “According to the memorandum, Turkey — which has established a military presence in the province — was to neutralize the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group that Moscow and Damascus have vowed to eliminate. In return, Moscow and Damascus agreed not to stage any attacks on the province. … While not accusing Turkey directly, Russia has been saying for weeks that the Idlib accord is not being fully implemented. Moscow also says that HTS has taken control of 70% of Idlib province, prompting a resumption of Russian and Syrian strikes there.”
“Aware of the increasing difficulties it faces in Idlib, Ankara has started to accuse the West of supporting HTS in order to undermine the Turkish-Russian memorandum,” adds Idiz. “Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated this accusation — first brought up by Erdogan in December 2018 — during a meeting with Hurriyet editors last week. ‘I know for a fact that some Western countries are encouraging HTS and even giving it money to commit these violations in order to spoil the Idlib memorandum,’ Cavusoglu said.”