Category Archives: Turkey

Questions Surface About Whether Turkey Really Gets Its Oil from IS

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In early December, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the decision by Turkey to shoot down a Russian military aircraft in late November was “dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory.” His remarks, which occurred at a news conference on 1 December, effectively implied that the Turkish government was not only complicit in the smuggling of oil produced in areas of Syria that are controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, but that it was also so heavily committed to this trade that it was willing to provoke an international crisis in a bid to protect it.

While it is doubtful whether President Putin genuinely believes this accusation, it has raised the issue of the possible dealings between Turkish government agencies and IS. Furthermore, by putting forth such an accusation, President Putin has the chance to gain propaganda points in his tussle with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and in some ways, it may legitimize recent Russian attacks on targets in parts of Syria that are held by non-IS rebel forces backed by Turkey. Amongst these attacks were the destruction of a large bakery built by the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.

While the ongoing Syrian conflict has given rise to an extensive war economy, in which deals are struck between a number of partners, that include groups that are fighting each other on the battlefield, the smuggling of oil and petroleum products from Syria into neighbouring Turkey has been going on for decades, as traders and security officials have cashed in on the difference in prices that have been created by the heavy subsidies in Syria.

However with the ongoing civil war in Syria, the trade of oil and petroleum products has vastly evolved and in 2014, it saw IS take over much of the production of crude and refining business along the Euphrates river valley. This effectively represented about one-third of the country’s pre-conflict oil capacity, with most of the remainder under Kurdish control.

While there are many steps before oil produced under IS control reaches an end-user, it is highly likely that Turkish business people, customs officials and intelligence agents are amongst the people implicated. However it must be noted that the scale of the entire trade is small compared with Turkey’s own energy economy, in which Russia plays a dominant role. Furthermore, most of the participants are within Syria.

According to widely reported estimates, in mid-2015, oil fields under the control of IS produced between 30,000 and 40,000 barrels per day. Sources have disclosed that the supply chain entailed IS selling crude to traders, who would then transport it to small refineries that were set up in IS-controlled areas. The petrol and diesel produced in these refineries was then sold across Syria and Iraq, while any surplus was smuggled across the border, mainly to Turkey. While the quality of these products was poor, many buyers, particularly those in rebel-controlled areas, had little other option and typically paid a heavy premium over international prices. While IS was able to profit from the well-head sales, as well as gain from taxes along the supply chain, the profitability of the Syrian illicit oil trade was hit by the collapse in world oil prices in October 2014.

Oil purchased at the well-head for US $20 – 25 per barrel in mid-October could end up in Turkey being sold at below the world market price of over US $100/barrel, effectively yielding health profits to everyone involved. For a trader to make a profit selling bad quality Syrian products in Turkey now the well-head price would have to be much lower, and this would not necessarily make commercial sense for IS.

Since mid October-2014, the IS oil business has been further hit as US and French jets have started to target well-head facilities and tanker trucks for the first time. Furthermore, Kurdish and local Arab rebels have also seized an oil field from IS in the southern province of Hassakeh.

Turkey relies almost entirely on imports for its total oil consumption, which is about 720,000 barrels per day. A large number of those imports come from Russia. In 2014, Russia also supplied 27 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Turkey, effectively representing 56% of its total consumption. Russia was also Turkey’s largest source of imports, supplying goods worth US $2.3 billion, or more than 10% of Turkey’s total imports.

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US Consulate Targeted in Turkey

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On Monday (10 August), the United States Consulate in Istanbul was targeted by two women, with at least nine people killed in a series of separate attacks, which has raised fears that Ankara’s decision to launch a crackdown on the Islamic State (IS) group as well as Kurdish and far-left militants will trigger more violence on Turkish soil.

At 1AM local time, a car carrying explosives struck a police station in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyli neighbourhood. Officials have reported that three policemen and seven bystanders were wounded in the incident, and that the attacker was killed. Less than six hours later, two gunmen opened fire on the same police station, setting off a gunfight, which resulted in the deaths of two attackers and one police officer. There was no claim of responsibility for either attack and so far, IS has not issued any statements about the police station assaults.

At 7AM on Monday, two women targeted the US Consulate in the Sariyer district. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, there were no casualties, and one of the two women was captured. The news agency has reported that authorities have identified her as Hatice Asik, 42, of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Turkey’s foreign ministry has condemned the attack, stating that security at US diplomatic missions were being tightened. On the ground sources have reported that police with automatic rifles cordoned off streets around the US consulate. Two years ago, the DHKP-C, which is designated a terrorist group by both Turkey and the US, killed a Turkish security guard and wounded several others in a suicide attack that targeted the US Embassy in Ankara. Monday’s attack came a day after the US sent six F-16 fighter jets and about 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, as part of coalition efforts to fight IS. Late on Monday, the DHKP-C claimed on its website that one of its female militants carried out the attack.

Elsewhere in Turkey on Monday, a roadside bombing in southeastern Sirnak province killed four policemen and wounded another. One soldier was killed when a military helicopter drew fire in the province in an attack that officials have blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Since launching strikes on IS fighters in Syria and PKK militants in northern Iraq, Turkey, which is a NATO member, has been in a heightened state of alert. Authorities in the country have also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants.

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Turkey Launches Air Strikes in Northern Iraq

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Turkish jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since air strikes were launched last week. The latest strikes come just hours after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan stated that a peace process had become impossible.

A statement released by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office indicated that the strikes hit Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets, including shelters, depots and caves in six areas. A source has reported that this was the largest assault since the campaign began. Iraq has condemned the air strikes, stating that they are a “dangerous escalation and an assault on Iraqi sovereignty.” It further indicated that it was committed to ensuring that militant attacks on Turkey were not carried out from within its territory.

Last Friday, Turkey launched near-simultaneous strikes against PKK camps in Iraq and against Islamic State (IS) fighters in neighbouring Syria. At the time, the country’s prime minister indicated that the strikes were a “synchronized fight against terror.” The strikes came just days after the NATO member opened up its air base to the US-led coalition against IS, in a move that effectively see’s Turkey join the front-line in the battle against the jihadist group after years of reluctance. However Turkey’s air strikes on the PKK have so far been far heavier than those against IS, which have fuelled suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check. This has been denied by the Turkish government, who has made it clear that its operations against IS militants in Syria will not include air cover for Syrian Kurdish fighters who are also battling the jihadists. The Turkish government has indicated that the air strikes against the PKK are in response to increased militant violence in recent weeks, including a series of targeted killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group. On Tuesday, Turkish fighter jets bombed PKK targets in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak, which borders Iraq. The bombings came after an attack on a group of gendarmes.

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Turkish ship attacked off the coast of Libya

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On Sunday, a Turkish dry cargo ship was shelled as it approached the Libyan city of Tobruk. The ship was then attacked from the air as it tried to leave the area, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The attack left the ship’s third officer killed and other crew members wounded. The Turkish Ministry maintains that the ship was in international waters at the time.

The Turkish-owned and Cook Islands-flagged ship, Tuna-1, was about 13 miles off the coast of Tobruk where it was carrying cargo from Spain. In a statement released on Monday, the Ankara government said, “We condemn strongly this contemptible attack which targeted a civilian ship in international waters and curse those who carried it out.” Turkey reserves its legal rights to seek compensation, the ministry said. The Turkish statement did not specify who launched the attacks, however a spokesman for the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) says the vessel was bombed as it was warned not to approach the Libyan port of Derna.

The attack is not the first to occur in the Libya, where two opposing governments have been fighting to gain power in the country for over a year. On 4 January, a Libyan warplane bombed a Greek-operated oil tanker anchored off the eastern port of Derna, killing two crewmen. Military officials from the Tobruk government said the vessel had been warned not to enter port. Days later, on 9 January, the Commander of the Libyan Air Force announced that airstrikes will be carried out against any ships calling at militant-held Misrata port. A week later on 16 January, an oil tanker approaching the port of Benghazi was bombed. The Tobruk-led Libyan National Army claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the unnamed vessel was attempting to deliver petrol to a radical Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia.

In February, internationally recognized Prime Minister, Abdullah al-Thani, said his government would stop dealing with Turkey because it was sending weapons to a rival group in Tripoli so that “the Libyan people kill each other.”

The internationally recognised House of Representatives operates out of Tobruk. Its forces, the LNA, have been battling against Fajr Libya, a coalition of militias supporting the Tripoli-based government, the General National Convention (GNC). Amid the chaos, radicalised elements have sought to gain a foothold in the land. The continued conflict has hindered the ability of government forces to differentiate between legitimate threats and innocent vessels.

MS Risk continues to advise merchant vessels to be aware of the threat to ships entering Libyan ports. Commercial vessel operators are urged to notify their insurers prior to sailing into Libyan coastal waters.

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Why is it taking so long to defeat ISIS?

Posted on in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Turkey, United States title_rule

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has metastasised into one of the most horrific fighting groups of this century. The group has become renowned for rampant murder, the pillaging of villages and cities, widely publicised beheadings, the theft of oil and artefacts, and more recently of human organs.

Since they appeared on the world stage, ISIS has come to remind many of a combination of the worst villains Hollywood has ever imagined. More terrifying, the group’s combination of savvy marketing and recruiting, has resulted in numerous would-be fighters attempting to travel to ISIS strongholds to join the group.

The Debate: What does ISIS want?

ISIS seeks to form a caliphate that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Their ideology has sparked numerous debates on whether they are a political group with a religious foundation, or a religious groups with a political foundation.

There is no denying that ISIS perceives themselves as an Islamic group; it’s in their name. However ISIS has modified their interpretation to create their own version of Islam. Their brand of Islam is a combination of fundamentalism similar to Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, but it is coupled with “violent Salafism” which deviated from evangelical Salafism in the 1960s and 70s. Further, the group has enacted a series of its own rulings or “fatwas” that are often in direct contradiction to Islam (for example, the burning of humans is strictly forbidden in ever interpretation of Islam—except for that which is held by ISIS).

ISIS has based its ideology on an apocalyptic message. Their magazine, Dabiq refers to a city in Syria that is said to be a site of great fighting during Armageddon (Malahim). The magazine states, “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” However the mention of this end-times battle is not found in the Qur’an. It is believed to be in one of the “lesser” Hadiths. This is an important point: in Islam, the Hadith is a collection of stories recounted of the prophet Muhammad. Each Hadith, over time, has been studied carefully to determine whether it can be verified and whether it is consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. Greater Hadiths are those which have extensive historical and scholarly evidence to support them. Lesser Hadiths have limited evidence to support them.

Despite their religious ideology, at the core of ISIS beliefs is an equal mix of political ideology. ISIS conducts itself as a state; collecting taxes and implementing its own version of judicial law and social controls. It grew out of region wide crisis in Iraq and flourished in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Here too, their political ideology has been the source of great debate. Some argue that US intervention was responsible for the creation of ISIS; others argue that former Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki institutionalised sectarian division in the nation, instigating a violent response among militant Sunni groups which already existed in the nation. The political goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni Islam to a place of (at least) equality, and their political message initially gained the support of non-militant Sunni Muslims who were marginalised by the nation’s government. In addition, ISIS often calls for the erasure of the Sykes-Picot lines which, in 1916, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control or influence.

The question of what ISIS really wants has made it difficult to know how to deal with them. ISIS governs itself as an extreme Islamic caliphate, organises like a modern state, and fights like a guerrilla insurgency.

Impact of Global Politics

ISIS is believed to have amassed over 200,000 fighters, with potential members coming from as many as 90 nations. As stated earlier, ISIS has developed a savvy social media presence, and nations are stopping people on a near daily basis from travelling to the region.

Despite a US led coalition of forty nations that have agreed to fight ISIS, the battle against the terrorist group has become. However since the initiation of the coalition in August 2014, ISIS has continued to grow.

In part, ISIS has thrived because of the complexity of international politics. The main fighting forces on the ground are the Kurdish Peshmerga, who belong to a political movement known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has sought an autonomous Kurdish state in parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government reached its zenith in 2005 when the PKK conducted a series of bombings, leading them to become a designated terrorist group in Turkey, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. The EU Court removed its status as terrorist organisation in April 2008. However, the designation by the US and Turkey has brought with it problems of arming the PKK; the only group that has successfully battled ISIS on the ground.

To add to the complexity, another nation that has a vested interest in defeating ISIS is Iran, which is on the US “enemies” list. As such, Iran, with over 500,000 active troops, is not a member of the coalition. Iran has been facing heavy sanctions that have been put in place by the west; the US has taken the lead in negotiating nuclear reduction in Iran. The US believes that Iran could use nuclear infrastructure to build weapons which could be a direct threat to Israel. Iran maintains that the facilities are part of their energy infrastructure.

In Iraq, the Iraqi military fell apart with alarming speed when ISIS first came onto the scene. It has been reported that when ISIS militants sought to overtake a region, the generals left first, leaving the soldiers uncertain of what to do; and so they left as well. Under Maliki, it is believed that the Sunni members of the army were unhappy to fight for a nation that had alienated them. With a new president in place, the 350,000 member army is currently being trained by Western forces in order to engage in battle against ISIS. However in the meanwhile, Shiite militias have been remobilised to fill the vacuum, however their presence has left Sunni Muslims in a precarious situation.

The Syrian army is believed by many to be the most likely to contain the ISIS threat. In early February, Syrian forces together with the Kurdish fighters repelled an ISIS advance in north-eastern Syria. However, Syrian troops have been divided between fighting in a protracted civil war and fighting ISIS forces. This has decreased their ability to focus on a single target.

Why are more Arab ground troops not involved?

ISIS has overtly stated that they seek to gain ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, ISIS has established a presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and along the Libyan coastline. In mid-February, Egyptian conducted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Derna, Libya, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals. Shortly after the airstrikes, Egyptian President Sisi called for a joint Arab military force to tackle extremist groups in the region, and called for a United Nations mandate for foreign intervention in Libya. Sisi’s call raises an important question: why have Arab nations —particularly those at greatest risk from ISIS— not sent in ground troops to fight ISIS?

In short, many Arab militaries have not acted as fighting forces for some time. For example the Egyptian army had not engaged in ground war since the three-day border war with Libya in 1977. Further, the Egyptian military has not been deployed to a foreign nation since the North Yemen civil war of the 1960s, where it was defeated. The story is similar for many militaries in the region. Another problem arises from the history of Arab cooperation in defence. Divisions along political lines (Turkey and the Kurds, for example), prevent full trust and therefore full cooperation. Western analysts espouse hope that the GCC Peninsula Shield, a 40,000-strong force made up of countries in the Persian Gulf, will be deployed to fight ISIS, however the group is designed to prevent political unrest in existing regimes. It is a force for suppression, not battle. The GCC Peninsula shield was most recently deployed to quell unrest in Bahrain in 2011. Their targets were unarmed, disorganised civilians. It is unlikely that they are prepared to engage in battle against armed, methodical militants.

This does not mean that the battle against ISIS cannot be won. However it will require renewed training of security forces, the updating of weaponry, and the combined efforts of both Middle Eastern and Western forces. The biggest advantage that ISIS has is the political divides that keep forces from uniting. As long as nations around the world debate whether to send forces, or to interfere on sovereign land, or base their involvement on political conditions, ISIS will continue to thrive.