Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called upon Turkey to end its military incursion into Syria as soon as possible because Turks, Kurds, and Syrians alike are being killed. He also chastised Turkey for failing to seek permission from the Syrian government before launching the operation.
“Our main issue here is that the intervention of military forces of one country should be based on the consent of the host country,” said Rouhani.
“Our ties with Turkey and Russia are very good, but our principled stance is that entry of a country’s army to another country should be on consent of the people and government of that country. Otherwise, that would not be right,” he elaborated.
Of course, Rouhani made time to denounce the continuing American presence in Syria on similar grounds. “Foreign powers should not interfere in the internal affairs of the region’s countries,” he declared, with an implied exception for whatever internal affairs Iran decides to meddle in, using its own forces or terrorist proxies like Hezbollah.
“We wish that the Turkish operation in Syria will end at the earliest time because our Turkish, Kurdish, and Syrian brothers are being killed, a fact we reject,” Rouhani added.
Rouhani also reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation on Monday that “tensions in northern Syria do not benefit anybody,” and stressed the need to respect the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of Syria.
“Like before, cooperation is necessary and should be continued and improved until the final victory of the Syrian people over terrorists,” said Rouhani, parroting the Syrian regime line that all of its opponents in the Syrian civil war are “terrorists.”
Ironically, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was striking similar notes in a parliamentary address while Rouhani was telling him to get out of Syria.
Erdogan accused the United States of supplying terrorist forces – by which he means the Kurds – under the guise of battling the Islamic State in Syria. He said this means the U.S. presence in Syria is motivated by “calculations against Turkey and Iran, and maybe Russia.”
Crucially, Erdogan called on the United States to remove its troops from the Syrian city of Manbij. Contrary to Rouhani’s wishes, this implies Turkey plans to expand its operation against the Syrian Kurds, rather than winding “Operation Olive Branch” down.
Manbij would be the next logical Turkish target beyond Afrin, the town Turkey and its Syrian proxies are currently besieging, but attacking Manbij would bring a high risk of conflict with American forces stationed there. It would also make it very difficult for the United States to remain disengaged from the conflict by stating the Kurds under attack by Turkey are not part of the Kurdish organizations America supported against the Islamic State.
Kurds from across Syria gathered in Afrin to protest the Turkish operation on Tuesday, waving portraits of Kurdish fighters killed in the battle and waving olive branches to mock the sarcastic name Turkey gave the operation.
“We came all this way to tell our brothers in Afrin they are not alone and that we are with them,” said one protester. Others chanted “Down with mercenaries, down with Erdogan,” slamming the Syrian forces cooperating with Turkey as hired killers.
Kurds living in Lebanon, which is partially governed by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, held parallel protests, including one outside the U.S. embassy. The Lebanese protesters were likewise equipped with olive branches and portraits of slain Kurdish fighters.
One fighter in particular mourned by Kurdish protesters is known by the military nickname “Barin Kobani.” She was one of four members of the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units killed in fighting around Afrin last week. There was an uproar when the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted videos on Saturday showing Turkish-backed fighters abusing her mutilated corpse, fondling her breasts, and referring to her as a “female pig.”
On the other side of the conflict, human-rights activists on Tuesday reported at least three people were killed, one of them a child, when rockets fired from a Kurdish enclave landed in a camp for displaced civilians near the Turkish border.
There is considerable dispute between the Turks and Kurds about how much progress the former is making against the latter, but the Kurds are clearly putting up a stiff fight, making swift Turkish withdrawal from northern Syria unlikely.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are scheduled to visit Turkey in the coming week to discuss the Afrin operation with Turkish officials.