Houthi fighters have infiltrated another area near the capital city, according to officials. The Shiite rebel group has staged mass demonstrations for months, demanding the resignation of the government.
Houthi fighters have reached a suburb of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, according to security officials. The armed Shiite rebels are fighting Sunni militias and holding Iman University, a Sunni-run institution.
Authorities say over 40 people have been killed in fighting over the past two days.
Mass demonstrations led by the Houthi minority have been going on in or around the capital for over four weeks, with the armed rebels and their supporters demanding the resignation of the government, which it accuses of widespread corruption. Earlier this month, police forces used water canon and tear gas to dispel a crowd of sit-in protesters blocking the capital’s airport.
Political and economic instability have gripped Yemen since early 2012, when its long-time leader Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power. The government has struggled since then against an al Qaeda insurgency and a secessionist movement in the country’s south.
In recent months, a Zaidi Shiite rebel group led by Abdel-Malek el-Houti has expanded its influence in the north of Yemen, where they form the majority.
Their calls for a departure from the current unity government escalated in August with protests in Sanaa. What began as protest camps near key ministry buildings and the Sanaa international airport turned into mass demonstrations.
The Yemini government has accused Iran of backing the group.
sb/nm (AP, Reuters)
Published on Sep 18, 2014
Islamic State fighters encircled a Kurdish city in northern Syria near the border with Turkey on Thursday after seizing 21 villages in a major assault that prompted a commander to appeal for military aid from other Kurds in the region. Mana Rabiee reports.
Militant fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province on June 30.(Photo: AP)
The Justice and Development Party-led (AK Party) Turkey will definitely raise the greatest difficulty to the US in its efforts to muster a “global coalition” against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — which emerged in Iraq to declare an Islamic caliphate and engage in violent attacks in the name of Islam — with a view to adding not only international legitimacy, but also increased effectiveness to its current operations against ISIL.
In the meeting held in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah in the wake of NATO summit talks in the UK, certain Islamic countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, agreed in principle to cooperate in the fight against ISIL and they issued a declaration. However, Turkey refrained from signing this declaration.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry paid visits to Turkey one after another to discuss Turkey’s potential position regarding ISIL.
The final declaration of the International Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq, held in Paris on Monday, produced the international commitment to provide Iraq with various kinds of help, including military assistance.
Turkey: a prisoner of ISIL
The media reports suggest that Turkey has certain drawbacks to any potential operation against ISIL and won’t actively participate in the coalition, but will lend logistical support. Turkey’s avoidance of active participation in this operation helps to reinforce Western perceptions of potential links between the AK Party and ISIL.
The Turkish government cites certain “sensitive matters” as excuses for not lending active support to the operation.
One of these matters is certainly the case of 46 Turkish citizens, including diplomats, who were taken hostage by ISIL some 100 days ago. With this move, ISIL took not only our diplomats, but also the whole of Turkey hostage.
Given the fact that ISIL sticks to a violence-centered interpretation of Islam, and is not willing to tolerate any divergent interpretation, even by Muslims, Turkey needs to act more carefully in connection with the hostages. We don’t know if the Turkish authorities have taken any concrete steps toward rescuing these hostages during the period since their being captured. When we ask if there might be any talks conducted in secret with ISIL or assess the statements the families of the hostages make, we hardly feel that we can say there have been any such moves.
What’s at stake: just the hostages?
The AK Party’s sensitivity regarding the hostages is of course understandable, and can even be tolerated to a certain extent. But both the domestic and international public tend to question if the AK Party’s sensitivity is only due to the hostages. New pieces of intelligence or reports emerge every day.
One of the factors in the AK Party’s sensitivities regarding ISIL is that ISIL was one of the organizations the AK Party cooperated with in its plan to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria. Indeed, it is reported that in return for joining the international coalition against ISIL, Turkey wanted it to work toward the overthrowing of Assad.
The ruling AK Party’s hostility toward Assad — which has become part of its nature — has led to claims that the AK Party lends support to radical Islamic groups other than the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is the legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition. Despite Turkey’s denials, claims that Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is providing assistance to al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamic group the al-Nusra Front were and are hotly debated in the international media.
As it cooperated with al-Nusra until late 2013, ISIL has had its share of Turkey’s assistance. ISIL refused to comply with al-Qaeda leader Abu Mosab Zarkawi’s call to join al-Nusra and later moved the majority of its forces from Syria to Iraq.
What does the world think of the link between the AK Party and ISIL?
Currently, the world’s perceptions about the link between the AK Party and ISIL are no longer restricted to claims of unofficial assistance provided by the AK Party to ISIL. The world increasingly sees an ideological affinity between the two.
Although these two organizations have different interpretations of Islam, they justify their acts saying they are doing them in the name of Islam. The ruling AK Party refrains from labeling ISIL as a terrorist organization, and it has been trying to boost the public visibility of Islam using public resources. All these factors reinforce the world’s perceptions about the link between the AK Party and ISIL.
Actually, media outlets tend to disclose new documents with evidence of this link as well. Indeed, the Turkish authorities’ tolerance of ISIL’s activities near the common borders with Syria and Iraq, the flexibility afforded to Turks who want to join the ranks of ISIL, and the tolerance afforded to people and institutions that are ideologically close to ISIL are among the main reasons for the Western perceptions.
The AK Party’s sensitivity regarding ISIL can hardly be attributed to 46 hostages. Apparently, the AK Party believes in the end it can bring its Islamic identity into play to convince ISIL.
ISIL’s threat to Turkey
In some respects, Turkey’s inclusion in the US-led coalition seems inevitable. Turkey should become part of this coalition even if it is a passive member.
This means that the AK Party and its members will have to confront their own future and what sort of country they dream of having.
Will the AK Party’s “new Turkey” be a softer version of the “Islamic State” that ISIL has established? Or will it be a pluralist, liberal, democratic and secular country?
Unfortunately, just as ISIL challenges the West with its weapons, the AK Party does the same thing with its democratic legitimacy but with a softer tone. The AK Party uses this democratic legitimacy to introduce anti-democratic regulations. But it seeks to regulate not only Turkey, but also the entire world.
Intervention not enough
Let use try to answer the following question: will the US-led coalition’s intervention with ISIL be sufficient?
Such an intervention may undermine ISIL’s activities, but it won’t be enough to completely destroy it in the medium term. To eliminate ISIL as a terrorist organization, the primary course of action should be to destroy the causes that paved the way for its emergence. For instance, the Shiism-centered sectarian policies in Iraq must be abandoned and principles of equal citizenship and pluralism should be implemented. In this way, ISIL and similar organizations may become marginal and eventually disappear.
For any operation against ISIL to succeed, the Muslim countries which secretly lent support to such organizations must become part of this international coalition.
*Murat Aksoy is an author based in İstanbul.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu leave Hacı Bayram Veli Mosque in Hacıbayram neighhborhood of Ankara after Friday prayers on Aug. 22. (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Mevlüt Karabulut)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at The New York Times on Wednesday over a report saying the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been steadily attracting Turkish recruits, calling the report “shameless.”
The New York Times ran the story on Monday with a photo of Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu leaving a mosque in the Ankara neighborhood of Hacı Bayram, which the report said has become a recruitment hub for ISIL.
“A media organization in the US accuses us of supporting terror organizations by posting a photo of me and Davutoğlu,” Erdoğan told a gathering of the Chamber of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen’s (TESK). “This is, in the clearest of terms, shameless, ignoble and base.”
The New York Times report focused on Hacı Bayram, where it said about 100 people have joined the ranks of ISIL, indicating that its locals tried to approach Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to raise the issue of ISIL recruitment when the two went to the historic Hacı Bayram Veli Mosque in the neighborhood.
The report said as many as 1,000 Turks have joined the ranks of the extremist group, citing local media reports and Turkish officials.
Erdoğan had just on Tuesday targeted The New York Times for a separate report it published on Saturday that said the US cannot convince Turkey to stop the flow of ISIL oil, a major source of revenue for the extremist group.
“This newspaper [The New York Times] … is very skilled at fabricating false reports. I also told [US Secretary of State John] Kerry that the US media made up false reports. These [reports] aim not to show Turkey’s real face but to harm Turkey-US ties and Turkey’s relations with other countries. These are not true. These methods are evil-minded,” he said of the Saturday report.
On Wednesday, Erdoğan again denied allegations of oil trade with ISIL. “They say Turkey buys oil [from ISIL] and they [ISIL militants] are treated in Turkey. Such things are out of the question,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey, one of the most vocal opponents of the Syrian regime, has been accused of helping the expansion of ISIL by turning a blind eye to the passage of foreign fighters transiting its territory to join ISIL in Syria in order to tip the military balance against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Ankara vehemently denies allegations and says Western countries where ISIS recruits come from should cooperate more closely with Turkey to stem flow of foreign fighters.
Ankara is also reluctant to publicly confront ISIL because of concerns over the fate of 49 Turks who were seized by the group in June in Mosul, Iraq.
“For us, the 49 people who are held in Mosul are more important than anything. We have responsibilities; we have to be careful in our statements,” Erdoğan said, underlining the Turkish concern for the hostages.
Erdoğan also stated that what he called the “perception operation” to create a negative image of Turkey will be taken to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“Turkey is a great country that cannot drop to its knees before such false reports. For us, the 49 people [46 Turkish nationals and three others] who are held in Mosul are more important than anything. We have responsibilities; we have to be careful in our statements. I regret to state that some treasonous networks that don’t have this sensitivity carry water to the mill of the others [ISIL militants]… We will tell world leaders about this ugly perception operation during the UN General Assembly on Monday,” he said.
Turkey claims that its hands are tied due to the 46 Turkish nationals who were kidnapped by ISIL from the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul over three months ago. Turkish officials have imposed a gag order on Turkish media coverage of the hostage issue, claiming that they do not want news stories to put the hostages’ lives at risk.
Turkey also refused to sign an anti-ISIL communiqué at a counterterrorism meeting in Jeddah last week. A senior Turkish official said Ankara had refrained from signing the communiqué in part due to the sensitivity of efforts to free the 46 Turkish hostages captured by ISIL fighters in Iraq. However, pro-government elements of the Turkish media have run articles expressing broader skepticism about Obama’s plans.
Western governments are facing an uphill battle trying to squeeze the finances of Islamic State militants, as the extremists operate like a “mafia” in territory under their control in Syria and Iraq, experts said Wednesday (Sep 17).
WASHINGTON: Western governments are facing an uphill battle trying to squeeze the finances of Islamic State militants, as the extremists operate like a “mafia” in territory under their control in Syria and Iraq, experts said Wednesday (Sep 17).
Unlike the Al-Qaeda network, which has relied almost exclusively on private donations, the IS group holds a large area in Syria and Iraq that allows it to generate cash from extortion, kidnapping and smuggling of both oil and antiquities, analysts said.
As a result, the group’s funding presents a much more difficult target for Western sanctions compared to Al-Qaeda’s finances, said Evan Jendruck, an analyst at IHS Jane’s consultancy.
A sanctions regime of more than 160 countries eventually succeeded in limiting Al-Qaeda’s ability to move funds through charities and banks, he said, but IS has its own sources of cash in areas under its grip.
“While such robust sanctions could somewhat limit the follow of funds to IS from outside Iraq and Syria, the groups organic funding inside its areas of control – oil fields, criminal networks, smuggling – are very difficult to curtail,” Jendruck told AFP.
Even conservative estimates portray IS as the world’s richest extremist organization, raking in at least a million dollars a day. US officials acknowledge the group has plenty of cash and is relentless about securing it.
“It is flush with cash from a variety of illicit activities such as extortion, kidnapping, robberies, and the like,” said a US intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The group is “merciless in shaking down local businesses for cash and routinely forces drivers on roads under its control to pay a tax,” the official said. “Its cash-raising activities resemble those of a mafia-like organization.”
IS has allegedly extracted multi-million dollar ransoms from some European governments after taking several reporters hostage, despite Washington’s appeals not to pay off the militants. The French government has denied making ransom payments.
Although IS is awash in cash, reports that the group got a hold of hundreds of millions of dollars from banks in Mosul are overstated and inaccurate, experts said.
OIL SMUGGLING NETWORK
The most crucial source of income for the group comes from an estimated 11 oil fields it has seized in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, allowing the militants to sell crude at cheap prices for cash or refined fuel products in neighboring countries.
The revenue from the oil sales could come to as much as US$2 million a day, according to Luay al-Khatteeb at the Brookings Doha Center.
Exploiting an area long known for smuggling, the oil is treated at rudimentary refineries, transported by truck, boat or mule to Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Jordan and sold at bargain basement prices – between US$25 to US$60 per barrel instead of the going world rate of about US$100, Khatteeb said.
“It has successfully achieved a thriving black market economy by developing an extensive network of middlemen in neighboring territories and countries to trade crude oil for cash and in kind,” Khatteeb wrote in a recent commentary.
The US Treasury Department has vowed to crack down on the group’s funding from oil smuggling, extortion and other criminal activity, without specifying how it will go about it.
Since 2003, Washington has imposed sanctions on more than 20 people affiliated with IS or its predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in recent months added two more names to the list, according to David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Washington also hopes to undercut IS’s access to the international financial system, Cohen said in a statement last week.
But it remains unclear if Gulf countries will fully back the effort. Qatar and Kuwait in particular have been widely accused of allowing money to be funnelled to the jihadists, despite denials from those governments.
TERRITORY HOLDS KEY
In any case, the IS does not rely heavily on rich donors, and financial sanctions hold little promise of shutting off its cash flow, said Howard Shatz, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation think tank.
Oil sales possibly could be restricted if Turkey and Jordan tightened border controls, or if middle men for the smuggling could be identified, he said.
The group is not invincible, however, and IS suffered setbacks in the past, said Shatz, who studied the ledgers of IS’s precursor organizations.
The militants started running out of money in 2009, after losing hold of territory amid an uprising by Sunni tribes and an offensive by Iraqi and US forces that killed senior leaders. “It does come down to territorial control,” Shatz said.