By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
This week has seen little change in the security situation as suicide bombings and shooting endure and the Syrian conflict continues to make its presence known in the north of the country.
The dynamic that is playing out in northern Syria is becoming of greater concern for a number of reasons. The rise of al Qaeda in parts of Syria’s north has left Turkey, and ergo NATO, facing a new security threat on its already vulnerable border and it has raised questions about its wholesale support for rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey has long championed more robust backing for Syria’s fractious armed opposition, arguing it would bring a quicker end to Assad’s rule and give moderate forces the authority they needed to keep more radical Islamist elements in check. But with Islamist groups staking territory in parts of the north near the border in recent weeks in direct conflict with the Kurdish community, it is a strategy that increasingly looks fragile and one that is becoming inherently more complex, and one, which will have ramifications across into Iraq.
Turkey has maintained an open-door policy throughout the two-and-a-half-year conflict, providing a lifeline to rebel-held areas by allowing humanitarian aid in, giving refugees a route out and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organize on its soil. It explicitly denies arming the rebels or facilitating the passage of foreign fighters who have swollen the ranks of al Qaeda-linked factions including ISIL and Nusra but many commentators say that this is a political smokescreen.
How does this affect Iraq? The conflict is becoming more complex with multiple agendas at play and multiple groups vying for territory. Turkey has long been in conflict with the Kurds and the PKK and now finds it supporting the very people fighting Syrian Kurds in the north, which could further threaten the fragile peace process signed with the PKK earlier this year. Add to this dynamic the very real threat by Barzani that the KRG would defend all regional Kurdish interests and Turkeys desire to protect its now fragile southern border, you could well have a situation where the northern areas of both Syria and Iraq become much more unstable. In addition as the conflict drags on, there is growing evidence of Turkish nationals going to fight in Syria, some alongside jihadists, others joining Syrian Kurds in their scramble against rival rebel units all of which is helping muddy an already toxic mix.