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Conflict in Middle East continues to heat up

  • 05 February 2020


The multi-front war in the Middle East continues to heat up. After the American assassination of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the deputy leader of the Iraqi military’s Popular Mobilisation Committee at the start of the year, and the subsequent refusal of the US to heed the Iraqi Parliament’s request to end its occupation, the focus has recently moved back to the Syrian front.

Here, the situation is complicated by a number of parties, all with their own agendas. The Northern Syrian Province of Idlib has been under the control of Western and Saudi backed militants claiming allegiance to a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam since 2015. As the Syrian government has retaken more and more of the country, Idlib has become the sanctuary for an alphabet soup of competing militant groups, often at war amongst themselves as much as with anyone else (at one stage the Pentagon and CIA were each funding rival groups who were at each other’s throats).

The Assad government has now launched a major operation, Idlib Dawn, to attempt to retake the province and, in particular, clear the arterial M5 highway running north-south through the length of Syria. So far, the assault, featuring considerable Russian air support, has been largely successful.

This success has caused something of a problem for Syria’s northern neighbour, NATO member Turkey. President Erdogan has been running two separate agendas in Syria, with varying success — support for Islamist rebels and opposition to the Kurds.

On the first front, Erdogan is a Turkish nationalist who feels some affinity with the declared religious motivation of the Idlib rebels and has been keeping supply lines open for them in order to destabilise his enemy, President Assad, and make a tidy profit off the latter’s mineral resources, where possible. With things going poorly for Turkey’s allies in the war, Erdogan now faces blowback as disaffected rebels, now squeezed in Idlib, press up against his border.

He has been trying to cope with these pressures by simultaneously negotiating with Russia (and, through it, Syria) for an area of Turkish intervention in the north of the country, in which he would be allowed to deploy troops and contain both allied rebel groups and potential refugees — in exchange for preventing militant attacks on Syrian and Russian forces. He has also been sponsoring 'surplus' Syrian fighters to fight with Islamist forces against the Libyan government.


'This deal, however, is