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M. K. Bhadrakumar |

In principle, one country, Turkey, is uniquely placed to ask for an independent investigation into the chemical attack in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib on April 4. Idlib borders Turkey and it is well-known fact that extremist groups (Al-Qaeda affiliates) controlling the province have enjoyed covert support from Turkish intelligence, which has trained them, equipped them and guided them in the past in a joint enterprise with the CIA and the US’ Gulf Arab allies.

Yet, curiously, President Recep Erdogan shies away from demanding an independent inquiry. Instead, he insists,

“We have the radar information and we have the forensic reports. Some say Syria does not have chemical weapons. Of course, it does. It’s clear which planes dropped it.”

Erdogan wants to close the file and move on. He lost no time to extend enthusiastic support for the US missile attack in Syria on April 6 and is beseeching President Donald Trump to revive the “regime change” agenda in Syria. Why such bizarre behavior?

Read more: With Syrian attacks, Trump launches his Queen on the chessboard

Idlib attack was just what suited Trump too to generate a new conversation in Washington that took the heat off him over his alleged links to Russia.

Erdogan’s proactive attitude has only one explanation: the chemical attack in Idlib was in reality planned with the knowledge of Turkish intelligence. Erdogan has everything to lose if this truth comes out.

Turkey stood to gain by precipitating a situation in Syria that would willy-nilly lead to some form of American intervention. (Indeed, CIA input was the basis of Trump’s decision to order the missile attack in Syria, which of course has severely impacted US-Russia relations.) On the other hand, Idlib attack was just what suited Trump too to generate a new conversation in Washington that took the heat off him over his alleged links to Russia.

Erdogan has the most to gain

All the protagonists gained out of this cynical game – Erdogan, the “cold warriors” in the CIA, the Russophobes in the Washington establishment, and the beleaguered American president himself.

Erdogan and the folks in Langley are swimming in the very same river of blood. So long as such cynical games continue, the prospects of Syrian settlement will remain bleak.

But Erdogan stands most to gain. He overnight hyped up the Syrian situation to burnish his image as the tallest Sunni Islamist leader in Muslim Middle East – Idlib is a Sunni province – just a week ahead of the crucial Turkish referendum on April 16 that votes on the creation of the presidency with executive powers.

Read more: Turkey picks up quarrel with Iran over Syria: to get back into US good books

Two, Erdogan has brought about a discord between US and Russia, which creates space for Turkey to carry on with its military operations in northern Syria and consolidate its occupation of large tracts of Syrian territory.

Three, Russia and Iran may come under pressure to postpone the planned military offensive on Idlib to liberate the region from the al-Qaeda. (Idlib is the only Syrian province remaining still under the control of extremist groups.)

And, four, Erdogan’s persistent demand for creation of “safe zones” inside territory as well as “no-fly zone” – both of which would boost a permanent Turkish military presence inside Syria – has gained a fresh lease of life. Indeed, that would also be the kiss of death for Kurdish ambitions to create an autonomous homeland (“Rojava”) in northern Syria.

Suffice it to say, Turkey’s territorial ambitions over Syria (to reclaim Ottoman territories which it lost in the 1922 settlement) took a leap forward this past week.

An international investigation will help uncover Turkey’s role in the chemical attacks in Idlib. However, alas, the CIA is unlikely to let that happen because what happened in Idlib also happens to be a back-to-back enterprise with Turkish intelligence. Erdogan and the folks in Langley are swimming in the very same river of blood. So long as such cynical games continue, the prospects of Syrian settlement will remain bleak.

Read more: Turkey seeks to expand border ‘safe zone’ 45km into Syria

Turkish policies threaten regional security in the Middle East as well as Europe. By Erdogan’s reckoning, Europe is inhabited by Nazis, and Middle East’s future lies with political Islam. Sadly enough, Turkey has once again become the “sick man of Europe”.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.  This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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