Uneasy Balance: Weighing Turkish, Syrian, and Kurdish Interests

10th September 2012 – Foundation for the Defense of Democracies/ A conversation with Tony Badran, Soner Cagaptay, John Hannah, Dr. Fuad Hussein (KRG – Barzani Staff) ) and Ilhan Tanir

Since July, Syria’s rebels have taken the battle to the Assad regime in the country’s largest two cities, Damascus and Aleppo. While the regime has been able to counter the offensive in Damascus, the situation in Aleppo has proved far more difficult resulting in a stalemate.

To fight these battles, the regime has concentrated its limited forces by drawing manpower from elsewhere in the country. This has led to a situation where much of northern Syria has fallen out of the control of the regime.

This dynamic has prompted another critical turn in the Syrian conflict. As of late July, a number of Kurdish cities are effectively free of the regime’s security presence. Kurdish forces have stepped in to fill the vacuum — including the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). For now, the Kurds are consolidating their gains and have agreed to manage their areas jointly, as a result of an accord signed in Irbil, under the aegis of Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

This tense and rapidly changing situation in northern Syria has great implications for the region. As the Assad regime loses Aleppo and its countryside, will this region become a de facto sphere of Turkish influence in Syria? How does Turkey intend to deal with potential Kurdish autonomy in Syria, where the PKK has a significant support? How will Syria’s Sunni Arab rebels deal with the Kurds’ gains? Will the current Kurdish divide between pro-PKK and pro-Barzani parties lead to a Kurdish subset of the Syrian civil war? What is Washington’s plan to offset the potential fragmentation of Syria?

Tony Badran, is a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). He focuses on Lebanon, Syria, and Hezbollah. His research includes U.S. policy towards Lebanon and Syria; Syrian foreign policy, with a focus on its regional relations with Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon; Syria’s ties to militant non-state actors and terrorist groups; and Syria’s international relations, especially with Russia and the EU. Mr. Badran’s other research has dealt with Syria’s use of information warfare, as well as with the Syrian opposition movement. Mr. Badran’s writings have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, ForeignAffairs.com, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy.com and The Jerusalem Post, among others. Mr. Badran also publishes a weekly column on NOWLebanon.com.

Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has written extensively on U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkish domestic politics, and Turkish nationalism, publishing in scholarly journals and major international print media, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Jane’s Defense Weekly, Newsweek Türkiye, and Habertürk. He is a regular columnist for Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey’s oldest and most influential English-language paper, and a contributor to CNN’s Global Public Square blog. He appears regularly on Fox News, CNN, NPR, Voice of America, al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN-Turk, and al-Hurra.

John Hannah is a senior fellow at FDD. Prior to this, he served as national security advisor to Vice President Richard Cheney. Mr. Hannah has served in a range of senior policy positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations, as a senior member of Secretary of State James A. Baker’s Policy Planning staff during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, and later as a senior advisor to Secretary of State Warren Christopher under President Bill Clinton. Mr. Hannah’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, and he blogs regularly at ForeignPolicy.com and National Review Online.

Ilhan Tanir is the Washington, DC correspondent for Vatan Daily, one of the most widely distributed Turkish newspapers. He writes extensively on Turkey-US relations, as well as issues related to the wider Middle East and Eurasian region. Mr. Tanir has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Star, and several US and British think tanks. He has been quoted by many of the world’s leading publications.

Dr. Fuad Hussein is the Chief of Staff to President Masoud Barzani, the President of the Region of Kurdistan. He has served in many roles on behalf of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish people. Prior to his current position, from November 2003-February 2005, Dr. Hussein served as Senior Consultant to the Iraqi National Communications and Media Commission. In 2003, he was appointed by the U.S. General Jay Garner as a member of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC) in Washington to develop plans for the reconstruction of the Iraqi Ministry of Education. Concurrently, he was advisor for the Council Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad for the Ministry of Education. Dr. Hussein’s background is in education, and he has published numerous papers and articles.

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