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Divided opinion

Senada Sokollu / bk
October 4, 2014

The Turkish parliament has voted in favor of a military operation in Syria and Iraq. Foreign militaries will be allowed to attack the "Islamic State" from Turkey, but experts criticize the transparency of the operation.

Suruc Türkei Grenze Syrien Türkei Soldaten Anti IS 02.10.2014
Image: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

After a long debate, the Turkish parliament this week passed a mandate for potential military action in Syria and Iraq. The proposal was introduced by the governing AKP party, and the government now has free rein for a year to use ground troops, or any other military force against terrorist organizations.

On top of that, foreign armies will be allowed to use Turkish bases and air space to attack the so-called "Islamic State" terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. This was the most controversial point in the parliamentary debate. The opposition wanted more information about which states would be involved, where exactly they would be stationed in Turkey, and for how long. They expressed the fear that foreign militaries could bring foreign terrorists into Turkey. Both the biggest opposition party, the social democratic CHP, and the Kurdish HDP, had announced before the session that they would be voting against the resolution.

Türkei Parlament
The Turkish parliament passed a vague resolution this weekImage: Reuters

Divided opinion

According to pollsters Metropoll, a slim 52 percent majority of the Turkish people are behind Turkey's military participation. There had been increasing criticism that the Turkish government was not doing enough against IS terror in the neighboring countries. But the Kurds reacted unhappily to the parliament's decision, and there were protests in predominantly Kurdish towns like Van, Hakkari, and Diyarbakir. Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, while the police reacted with tear gas.

One Twitter user commented, "The Kurds don't believe that Turkey really wants to fight IS." Another user responded, "It's clear that Turkey has good intentions. The only intention is to protect the innocent." A CHP supporter on Facebook said, "Now it's war. Our people and others will die for no reason."

Two different wars

The resolution doesn't necessarily mean that Turkey will soon invade ist neighbors, says Istanbul-based political analyst Gareth Jenkins. "The biggest problem is that President Erdogan and all the other western states want to wage different wars," he told DW. "Erdogan is always talking about how he wants to remove the Syrian ruler Assad. But the anti-IS coalition wants to destroy the 'Islamic State.' Even though Turkey says that IS needs to be fought, the Turkish government could have done more against them."

John Kerry in der Türkei
Erdogan (left) may strike a deal with the US over SyriaImage: Reuters/K. Ozer

There could now be an agreement between the US and Turkey. "The USA is allowed to use Turkish military bases and air space and in return the USA will help Turkey in the fight against Assad," Jenkins suggests.

But it remains obscure what the possibility of a foreign military operating from Turkey could mean. "There are now specifically named states or places," said Jenkins. "But we can expect the coalition to use the military base in Incirlik near the Syrian border. And yet it's very unlikely that American ground troops, for example, would be stationed in Turkey. President Obama has already ruled out ground troops."

The security and no-fly zone that the Turkish government has called for in Syria and perhaps in Iraq also remains unclear. "Still no one knows exactly where it should be or whether it will be implemented," said Jenkins. The parliamentary resolution, he said, was very vague.

Kurds don't trust the government

The Kurds don't believe that the Turkish government really wants to fight IS terrorists directly. "A lot of Syrian Kurds believe that Turkey is delivering weapons to IS," said Jenkins. "Whether it's true or not - the important thing is that it's stuck in people's heads."

Turkish political scientist and columnist Cengiz Aktar, of the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC), also thinks the government hasn't made clear what it is planning to do. "The resolution empowers the Turkish military to fight terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq," he said. "We all know that the Turkish government considers both the Kurdish militias, the PKK and the PYD, which is in Syria, to be terrorist organizations. A lot of questions remain open when it comes to who Turkey actually wants to attack. It is a big threat to the peace process with the PKK."

That's why, he says, there needs to be action now, and no more talk. "Then we will all see what the Turkish government is planning, whether it really wants to fight IS, and by that I mean IS' logistical routes - those inside Turkey too."

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