From Iraq to Libya: How Turkey and the US are exerting their influence in the Middle East

By Matt Trinder

TURKEY and the United States are both using jihadist groups to further their respective foreign policy goals in north Africa and the Middle East, a leading expert has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to Redaction Politics, Steve Sweeney, International Editor at The Morning Star, accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of sending thousands of jihadi fighters to defend the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya against rebel general Khalifa Haftar as part of a bid to transform Turkey into a major regional power.

Mr Sweeney also claims that the USA is facilitating the return of Isis in the north of Iraq to justify keeping its troops in the country following a unanimous Iraqi parliament vote ordering them to withdraw last month.

He said: “Turkey is one of the biggest supporters of jihadst groups such as Jabha al-Shamiya and Liwa al-Salam in the region, using them as part of the Syrian National Army to fight the Kurds in north-west Syria.”

Erdoğan has long feared the creation of a Kurdish state in the region, as it would see irresistible calls from Turkey’s Kurds to secede.

“Now it is known that thousands of similar fighters have been sent to Libya by Turkey, mostly from the battlefields of Syria.”

Power in Libya is split between the UN-backed GNA, based in the capital Tripoli, and Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east.

“The GNA denies jihadists are fighting in Libya, but I have spoken to LNA fighters on the ground who explained they have fought jihadist forces.

“Many have been flown into Libya directly from Turkey and others have crossed the border under Turkish troop supervision.

“They say they are there to “defend Islam” but others are simply paid mercenaries.”

Mr Sweeney claims they are being employed directly by the GNA on six-month contracts and are also being guaranteed Turkish nationality as Erdoğan seeks to add to his already 250,000 strong “watchmen” force in Turkey, widely seen as the President’s personal paramilitary force.

The race to secure energy supplies is key to understanding Turkey’s regional objectives according to Mr Sweeney.

He said: “Huge natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean are seen as a potential source of wealth for regional countries with a rush to gain control.

“In signing a security agreement with the GNA, Turkey sees itself as gaining an advantage in securing resources including the 8 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Aphrodite oilfield off Cyprus.”

In Iraq, the reaction to the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in an American drone strike at Baghdad airport in January has proved problematic for US President Donald Trump. 

The Iraqi parliament responded by voting 157-0 for the 5,000 US troops currently in the country, present since 2014 to help expel resurgent Isis terrorists, to leave.

Mr Sweeney said: “The US always insisted that its 2003 illegal invasion and subsequent occupation was about ‘democracy’.

“Democracy has now spoken but leaving would mean the US no longer had a large presence in the region, essential for any invasion of neighbouring Iran.

“In order to justify their presence, rumours have begun to circulate that they are facilitating the return of Isis in the north of the country. Qusai al-Anbari, who leads the Badr Organisation in Anbar province, claimed exactly that last month.

“This was supported by Iraqi security commentator Karim al-Khikani who said Isis operatives had been trained at US bases in Syria, including al-Tanf.

“I have spoken to forces on the ground, including a police official in Najaf, who concur with this.”

Mr Sweeney argued the international community must now retire its “blanket” support for the Erdoğan regime in Turkey and withdraw all foreign forces from Libya and Iraq.

“It is also up to us to deal with our own government.

“The Conservative Party has supported every brutal dictatorship and genocidal regime in history and never pursues a foreign policy independent of US imperialism.

“We need to build a mass movement that unites in solidarity with democratic forces everywhere and supports a government here that has a foreign policy based on peace, solidarity and cooperation, not war and profit.”

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