On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for cooperation between the U.S., Russia, Iran, and Turkey to “establish a stable and terror-free zone” in Syria.
He also called for this alliance to “prevent the creation of another state in that region,” which is likely a rebuke to Kurdish aspirations for a country of their own. Turkey views a Kurdish state in Syria as a major security threat because it fears Kurdish separatists in Turkey would want to become part of such a new nation.
“If we reach an agreement with the Americans and help each other then after Manbij comes Raqqa. And no one should tell us why we are doing this, because Turkey is a global power,” said Erdogan, as quoted by the Kurdish Rudaw news service.
Raqqa is the Islamic State’s capital in Syria. Manbij is the next Syrian city Turkey plans to liberate, once it finishes fighting ISIS in the city of al-Bab.
The Turks and their allies would be liberating Manbij from the Kurds, not ISIS. The city is currently controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces, the YPG, which is a military ally of the United States, but is frequently denounced as a terrorist organization by Erdogan’s government.
In fact, the Daily Sabah reports that Erdogan specifically mentioned the Kurds in his remarks, saying that if the liberation of al-Bab is “not enough” to keep the Kurds from forming a state out of Syrian territory, “we will march toward Manbij. Why? Because the YPG is there.”
“Turkey will never allow the formation of a new state in northern Syria,” Erdogan declared, clearly not referring to the Islamic State.
The Daily Sabah describes the tension over Manbij:
Turkey has voiced its concerns over the YPG moving into Manbij, which has a predominantly Arab population. Turkey has also warned against the YPG’s aim to create demographic changes in areas captured from Daesh.
Meanwhile, the YPG presence has become a matter of political friction between Ankara and Washington. Ankara argues that U.S. support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), predominantly led by the YPG, is eventually transferred to the PKK and ultimately used against Turkey.
Despite Ankara’s repeated warnings to the YPG and its allies the U.S. that all YPG forces should withdraw from Manbij and move east of the Euphrates, the terrorist group has remained in the town and even marched westwards to al-Bab.
Turkey has been warning the Kurdish YPG to pull out of Manbij and let the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army take over ever since Kurdish militia forces ejected ISIS from the city in August.
As for progress against ISIS in al-Bab, Erdogan said, “We, in Syria, together with our brothers there, have given and continue to give the struggle of our liberty and future. Now we are in al-Bab and al-Bab is surrounded from near and far. God willing, our job there is over, or about to be over. The real owners will come and settle there.”
This portion of Erdogan’s speech was quoted by Hurriyet Daily News, which also cites more of his assertions about Turkey being a “global power.” It seems as if his remarks on Saturday were meant as a warning to Western powers to stay out of Turkey’s way while it does whatever it thinks necessary to secure the Syrian side of its border, from both ISIS and the Kurds.