Trump threat and his earlier vow to stand by the Kurds despite the troop withdrawal gives Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt political cover to support the Kurds as a force against Iran’s presence in Syria. It also allows the kingdom and the UAE to attempt to thwart Turkish attempts to increase its regional influence.
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But the real question is, what will the Kurds do? Initially following Trump’s pull-out tweet, an SDF alliance with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia seemed most likely. There were early signs of the SDF reaching out to both parties and protesting the US move. Within days, pro-al-Assad forces were reportedly moving into areas previously dominated by the SDF.
In sum, it is obvious that the course of these developments urgently require an update of the Western approach towards the Kurdish Question in order to cope with the evolving regional and geopolitical challenges in the Middle East. Correspondingly, both the internal and external dynamics of the Kurdish Question are also evolving. It is unrealistic to try to turn back the clock in the Middle East.
Tensions flared in the months after the general elections in Iraq in May 2018 and the subsequent forming of the Iraqi government. The KDP considered itself eligible to present an Iraqi presidential candidate because the Kurdish region has been without a president since President Masoud Barzani’s term ended in November 2017. The parties could not agree on a candidate. The PUK proposed Barham Salih, a former PUK member who had rejoined the party in order to run in the elections. He beat the KDP’s candidate in a landslide.
Thus, almost 35 years after the start of the conflict, south-east Turkey and northern Iraq, remain war zones. And the blood of soldiers, guerrillas and civilians will continue to flow. To end the bloodshed, a political deal will have to be made. Currently, no one in Turkey is even willing to consider a political deal with the PKK: they are terrorists and have to be destroyed.
In late July, Turkey’s central bank refused to raise interest rates, despite pressure from the international community to do so to alleviate rising inflation. Prior to the election, Erdoğan repeatedly promised to take over greater control of central bank policy, so the failure to raise rates sparked fears that Erdoğan was following through on this promise. He has called interest rates the “mother and father of all evil”. The Turkish lira promptly lost 3% off the dollar, a reaction from the markets similar to the one they had when his re-election was announced. The Turkish economy is dependent on foreign investors and moves such as this one, which may hold a certain domestic nationalist appeal, are driving away foreign money and sparking fears for the future health of the Turkish economy.
Erdogan’s win means more than just another five years of his authoritarian rule. The elections gifted him with a raft of new powers – voted for in last year’s referendum – including the right to directly appoint public officials, impose a state of emergency and intervene unilaterally in the judicial system.
Fuelling Saudi Arabia’s anger, Turkey sent additional troops to Qatar in December 2017, and the two countries signed an agreement in March 2018 to establish a naval base and training centre and to send 60,000 more soldiers. In response, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) described Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil” along with Iran and hardline Islamist groups.