The attack on northern Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah airport on Friday was part of plans devised by the Turkish government and its intelligence agency ahead of the 14 May polls, wrote the Kurdish journalist Amed Dicle on Sunday.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls territories in northern Syria, confirmed on Saturday that its commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi had survived the explosion at Sulaymaniyah airport in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).
The Turkish government, which faced objections from international powers to its plans to launch a ground operation into the Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syrian town of Rojava, has instead started plans for the assassination of Abdi, Dicle wrote in Yeni Yaşam newspaper.
Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) and Mutlu Tuka, who heads the institution’s operations in Syria, have been directly involved in contact with officials in Syria and Iraq, aiming to implement the government’s new plan, according to Dicle.
The government in Ankara received a red light regarding its plans for a ground operation into northeast Syria, particularly from Washington, which has repeatedly voiced its concerns about the negative impact of the Turkish attacks in Syria on the US-led international coalition’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region. The SDF and its armed force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), form the backbone of the coalition fighting against ISIS.
Turkey started using armed drones to target the Kurdish-controlled territories in northeast Syria after a deadly bombing in İstanbul in November last year. Ankara blamed the SDF, which it sees as affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), for the explosion in İstanbul’s Taksim square, though the Kurdish-led group has repeatedly denied any involvement.
On 22 November last year, a Turkish attack targeted an SDF anti-terror centre in northeast Syria’s Hasakah. Abdi, who had a meeting with US military advisors at the centre that day survived the attack, however three SDF fighters lost their lives.
“Recent air strikes in Syria directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working in Syria with local partners to defeat ISIS and maintain custody of more than ten thousand ISIS detainees,” a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement following the November attack.
After failing in this attack, the Turkish officials continued their efforts to assassinate Abdi, while the government repeated its determination to launch a ground invasion into SDF-controlled territories in Syria, despite the objections of the United States. However, Turkey had to put its plans on hold following the twin earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on 6 February.
As of early April, officials of the Kurdish forces in Syria have started expressing expectation of a possible Turkish attack. YPG spokesperson Nuri Mahmud told Yeni Özgür Gündem newspaper on 3 April that the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has made fighting against terrorism one of the main thrusts of his propaganda, needed to launch an attack against Kurdish targets ahead of critical elections in the country.
According to Dicle, Turkish intelligence officials promised to meet all the political and economic demands of those they were in contact with in Syria and Iraq in order to assassinate Abdi, and reverted to threats when they did not receive a positive response. Their contacts included some Iraqi officials who are a part of the international coalition’s counter-terror operations against ISIS, the journalist said.
“It is reported that an Iraqi official raised the issue of this continuing insistence on this assassination plan against Mazloum Abdi during a meeting of the international coalition,” Dicle wrote.
Seth J. Frantzman from the Jerusalem Post on Sunday noted that Friday’s Turkish drone attack took place near a SDF convoy that included US military personnel.
“Turkey would likely only leave northern Syria if it thinks the SDF is defeated and the United States has left Syria at the same time,” Frantzman said. “This means that Ankara’s drone strike is part of a process of sending a message to the United States to put pressure on the United States to leave,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant to the US Secretary of Defence, told North Press agency that he thought the Turkish drone attack could have missed the target intentionally.
“Perhaps they intentionally missed the target, a ground convoy is generally not a difficult target to strike. If so, this could be some form of message,” the agency quoted Mulroy as saying.
Such attacks “would be handled diplomatically but direct messages that target our partners especially with our service members present is not acceptable,” Mulroy said, adding that “additional actions like this will have real consequences.”