The Iranian Islamic regime and its proxy government in Damascus issued statements Wednesday condemning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for planning an invasion of Syrian Kurdistan.
Erdogan has threatened such an invasion for years and conducted limited operations against the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), a Kurdish militia in Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan, that did most of the fighting alongside the United States against the Islamic State in its former capital, Raqqa. The Turkish government claims the YPG is indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group.
Erdogan’s threatened invasion became news again this week after President Donald Trump announced that he would move 50 troops out of Rojava to other parts of Syria, a move that both the left and right establishment in Washington, DC, branded a betrayal of Kurdish allies. American troops are in Syria under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against all wings of al-Qaeda; the Islamic State is an offshoot of al-Qaeda. American troops have no legal authority to fight any other groups or factions within Syria. Turkey is a NATO member country that the United States is treaty-bound to defend in the case of military attack.
Erdogan announced “Operation Peace Spring” – a violent invasion of Rojava – on Wednesday, claiming that the Syrian National Army supports the move and that Islamic State elements operate in Rojava. The Islamic State never had a significant presence in the area precisely because of the YPG’s control there.
The “Syrian National Army” is more commonly known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of Sunni Arab militias that has at times included jihadist groups. It is not the official army of the government of Syria.
The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria. Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 9, 2019
The Syrian Arab Army, the actual official army of the government of Syria, has no presence in the region where “Operation Peace Spring” is taking place, as the Kurdish forces and Assad loyalists have largely avoided overlapping on the map since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011. The YPG has toyed with the idea of allying with Assad in the event that Washington abandons them, but regularly refers to it as an undesirable last-ditch option.
Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), an umbrella organization primarily made up of YPG members, announced on Wednesday that Kurdish civilians are organizing a “human shield” to block the Turkish military’s entry.
“The people are already working and moving towards the border area in order to create a human shield against any Turkish invasion and I think everyone is also working to prepare itself for any future operation,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told Sky News. “I think our advice would be for the people to take care of themselves and their families and trust the Syrian Democratic Forces to defend them and to protect them.”
Assad’s government issued a stern condemnation of Turkey’s plan to invade the country on Wednesday through the government news agency SANA.
“Syria condemns in strongest terms the reckless statements and hostile intentions of the Turkish regime and the military build-up at the Syrian borders which constitute an outrageous violation of the international law and a blatant breach of the International Security Council’s resolutions which affirm respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a foreign ministry “source” told the government outlet.
The government went on to call Erdogan an “expansionist” intent on moving the borders of Turkey east.
Damascus also condemned the YPG for fighting for a free Kurdistan.
“The source continued that the Syrian Arab Republic holds some of the Kurdish organizations responsible for what is taking place due to their subordination to the U.S. project,” SANA reported. “They have been previously warned during the meetings with them against the dangers of that project and to not be tools serving the US policy against their homeland, but these organizations have insisted on being tools in the hands of foreigners.”
The statement concluded with a threat to Turkey: Syria will “confront the Turkish aggression by all legitimate means.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a similar statement. The Assad regime is largely a proxy force of the Iranian government, tied together by Shiite Islam and alliances with the world’s socialist and communist states. Rouhani used a much more measured tone than the Syrian foreign ministry.
“The approach that has been adopted today (by Turkey) and the secret agreements that have been made would not benefit the region,” Rouhani reportedly said, “and we call on our friend and brother, Turkey, and its government, to be more careful and have more patience in such affairs and reconsider the path that has been chosen.”
Instead of focusing on the Kurds in northern Syria, Rouhani suggested a coalition to exterminate the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country, the city of Idlib.
Though Ankara and Tehran have a tense agreement to cooperate economically, Erdogan and Assad have long referred to each other as “terrorists.” Erdogan has emphasized the elimination of local Kurdish populations as his reason for entering Syria more recently, but he stated in 2016:
Why did we enter? We do not have an eye on Syrian soil. The issue is to provide lands to their real owners. That is to say we are there for the establishment of justice. We entered there to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror.
The Assad regime has not changed its course from assuming that Erdogan’s end goal of eradicating it is still the same.
The Syrian foreign ministry has repeatedly accused Erdogan of supporting “Takfiri terrorism,” a term typically used to mean Sunni groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Erdogan is openly Islamist and a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer.
The SDF, accused Erdogan this week of seeking ethnic cleansing in Rojava and striving to “take over new lands for ISIS.”
“Through these attacks, Turkey seeks to take over new lands for ISIS, and prolong the life of these organizations and we do not accept in any way the attacks of Turkey and anyone supporting it,” a spokesman for the SDF said.
The SDF is America’s closest ally on the ground in Syria and responsible for most of the fighting against ISIS in Rojava.
The Syrian Democratic Council, the civilian wing of the SDF, issued an alarmed statement Tuesday urging President Donald Trump to reconsider moving 50 troops out of Rojava to elsewhere in Syria.
We call upon Congress, the US military, and the international community to oppose this decision, and we call upon President Trump to reverse this decision,” the statement read. “Our brave men and women with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have just won a historic victory over the ISIS ‘caliphate,’ a victory announced by President Trump and celebrated across the world. To abandon us now would be tragic.”
“To disregard our partnership would also send a clear signal to all would-be partner forces of the United States that a US alliance may not be trustworthy,” it concluded.