In a major policy shift, the Turkish government has announced that it will allow Iraqi Peshmerga to cross its borders and relieve the besieged town of Kobani. As the BBC reports:
Turkey, faced with a long insurgency by its own Kurds, has up till now barred access for Kurdish fighters to Syria. […]But the Kurdish Rudaw news agency reports that Ankara has now accepted a request from Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader, to allow Iraq’s Peshmerga forces through Turkish territory.The BBC’s Mark Lowen in Istanbul says that Turkey sees Iraq’s Kurds as more reliable and less threatening, coming from a semi-autonomous state with which it can do business.
Meanwhile, the United States airdropped arms, ammunition, and supplies into Kobani, which marks the first time it has directly armed local Kurdish fighters. Although the Turks publicly objected, the coinciding of the airdrop with the Turkish announcement may indicate that both actions were the product of the ongoing backroom negotiations between Washington and Ankara.We wrote recently that Kobani may be Erdogan’s Warsaw; just as Stalin waited outside the city while the Nazis slaughtered all the rebellious Poles, so Turkey may have been willing to permit ISIS to take Kobani, allowing Turkey to resettle it with pacified Arabs. However, U.S. airstrikes and strong resistance from the Kurds have prevented ISIS from conquering the town, and it looks like Erdogan has decided not to sit on the sidelines, however minimal a contribution this is. But even if the analogy to the Warsaw Uprising doesn’t quite fit, Erdogan might have gotten something out of the delay; the fighting has weakened the PKK-aligned Syrian Kurds who are defending the town, and with whom Turkey is far less comfortable than with the Peshmerga. As for what Turkey will do should the new forces and Western airstrikes prove insufficient, and ISIS regains the upper hand, we’ll have to wait and see.