Does ISIS Owe Its Success to Turkey?

The downing of a Russian fighter jet on its way back from an Islamic State bombing mission put Turkey in the crosshairs of scrutiny regarding its role in facilitating the success of the Islamic State.  

Turkey’s arms transfers to al-Qaeda-linked Islamist jihadis in Syria are long-documented and largely ignored by the Western media. Similarly, the fact the Turkey has been the top financial sponsor of Hamas since 2012, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arranging for the transfer of $250-300 million to the terrorist group annually, is another oft-ignored inconvenience.

A major raid by the U.S. on an Islamic State safe house in Syria this summer gleaned large amounts of intelligence linking Turkey to the Islamic State. In the words of one senior Western official, the connection is now “undeniable.”

As investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed writes, “In a rare insight into this brazen state-sponsorship of ISIS, a year ago Newsweek reported the testimony of a former ISIS communications technician, who had travelled to Syria to fight the regime of Bashir al-Assad.

“The former ISIS fighter told Newsweek that Turkey was allowing ISIS trucks from Raqqa to cross the ‘border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.’ ISIS militants would freely travel ‘through Turkey in a convoy of trucks,’ and stop ‘at safehouses along the way.’

“The former ISIS communication technician also admitted that he would routinely ‘connect ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,’ adding that ‘the people they talked to were Turkish officials… ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks.’”

Trucks, arms and fighters are not the only commodities that are flowing freely between Turkey and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The life-blood of the Islamic State, crude oil, which serves to finance the terror group’s operation, is sold in Turkey. Estimates of ISIS oil sales in Turkey to date are as high as $1 billion.

Senior Iraqi politician Mowaffak Baqer al-Rubaie said yesterday the Islamic State sells oil through Turkish black-market channels at $20 per barrel, less than half the current market price.

Rubaie also pointedly commented that Turkey is the recruitment hub for all new Islamic State fighters – both foreign and Arab. “The new recruits meet with ISIS officials in Istanbul and are then transferred over the Turkish borders with Iraq, to Mosul, and over the border with Syria to Raqqa,” he said.

Rubaie also blamed Turkish security forces for “studiously ignoring the transfer of ISIS terrorists from Turkey to north Iraq and Syria. [In addition,] the wounded of the ISIS gangs … are getting treatment and medical care in the hospitals of Turkey.”

Besides their ideological similarities, Erdogan and his ruling AK Islamist party view the Islamic State as an easy ticket to smashing their nemesis, the Kurds, an ethnic group vying for independence from Turkey. As one AK party member said, “They are like us, fighting against seven great powers in the War of Independence.”

Another senior party member said, “Rather than the PKK [Kurdistan Working Party] on the other side, I would rather have ISIL as a neighbor.”

Hundreds of flash drives and documents were seized in a summer raid on the Islamic State safe house in Syria last summer. At the time, a senior Western official predicted “the links [between Turkey and ISIS] are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.”

Yet, this has clearly not been the case. Turkey, a member of NATO, has been flaunting its support of the Islamic State under Western leaders’ noses. After finally agreeing to get involved in the fight between coalition forces and the Islamic State (after years of sitting out the fight militarily), Turkish planes mainly used the bombing raids to attack Kurdish forces in Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

And the oil keeps flowing, filling Turkey’s coffers. As Professor David Graeber of the London School of Economics noted, “Had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on ISIS territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria… that blood-stained ‘caliphate’ would long since have collapsed?—?and arguably, the Paris attacks may never have happened. And if Turkey were to do the same today, ISIS would probably collapse in a matter of months. Yet, has a single western leader called on Erdo?an to do this?”

Sadly, the answer is an obvious “no.”

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