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Turkey takes a quiet role in NATO’s fight with Islamic State 15 septembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Washington Times Daily (USA) September 15, 2014, p. A9

Desmond Butler, Istanbul (Associated Press)

Turkey is the big Muslim power that sits atop raging conflicts in Iraq and Syria, so it might be expected to take a leading role in the NATO coalition announced this month to take on the Islamic State group.

Instead it has told allies that it will stay quietly behind the scenes, keeping its soldiers out of combat operations and even declining to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks.

The reticence has roots in two dilemmas: The Islamic State group holds dozens of Turkish hostages, including diplomats, and Turkey is wary of boosting its rebellious Kurdish minority in the battle against Islamic State group enemies in Iraq.

Turkey’s position is complicated by its eagerness to uproot the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, which led to tolerance of anti-Assad Islamist fighters taking refuge on its side of the Syrian border — and may have given the Islamic State some breathing room in Turkey.

More recently, it has been forced to confront the threat that the group poses.

Western concerns that Turkey was tacitly tolerating the Islamic State have been allayed by Turkey’s strong statements of condemnation of the group and steps to rein it in, including kicking out suspected Islamic State sympathizers.

But while expressing public support for Turkey, NATO allies quietly are saying they would like more action from their ally.

They would chiefly like to see Turkey tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters transiting Turkey from Western countries and the Middle East, and crack down on oil smuggling from Syria that finances the Islamic State group.

They also could benefit from closer intelligence cooperation and possibly the use of Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey as a platform from which to launch strikes against the group.

Western governments have been alarmed by a trend of the Islamic State managing to smuggle Iraqi and Syrian oil across its borders. Turkey has cracked down, but analysts say that Turkey has not been able to police the smuggling across more than 750 miles of border with Iraq and Syria.

Both Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were in Ankara last week on successive trips to press Turkey on its role, meeting with officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But they failed to win pledges for support of combat operations — at least publicly. Both expressed understanding for the delicate position Turkey is in.

Turkey also declined to sign a U.S.-brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week repudiating the Islamic State and pledging to fight it.

Along with fears over the fate of the 49 hostages seized from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Turkey also finds its hands tied on fighting the Islamic State because of its three-decade-long conflict with the Kurdish minority that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Last year, Kurdish rebels declared a cease-fire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in northern Iraq, but tensions have risen recently as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has accused Turkey of not boosting Kurdish rights quickly enough.

Government officials say they now see signs that Kurds from Turkey are crossing the border to help PKK militants in Iraq and Syria fight the Islamic State. The government also may have concerns that Turkey’s Kurds, bolstered by Western arms and emboldened by battlefield success, could harden their demands on the Ankara government.

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