Erdogan Keeps Eye on Elections by Ducking Islamic State Bullets

Turkey’s insistence on a secure no-fly zone in Syria in the face of international opposition may say more about domestic politics than keeping the country out of the gun sights of militants.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trying to avoid “fighting Islamic State and retaliatory bombings by Islamic extremists that could have political setbacks for the government,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation, said on Nov. 3.

Erdogan declared Turkey’s support for a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, though said even a defeat of the group would not eliminate the threat from such militants. U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly resisted the idea of expanded military intervention, including a no-fly zone to ground the planes and helicopters President Bashar al-Assad has used to drop barrel bombs on civilian areas.

So far, responses by the United Nations and U.S. to the Turkish call for such a strategy “have been icy,” Didem Collinsworth, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said on Nov.2.

Turkey “does not want to get involved militarily in Syria unless this is done as a part of a truly international involvement and mandate,” Collinsworth said by e-mail. “So Turkey may have put forward this unrealistic condition as a way of getting out of further entanglement.”

Hollande Talks

French President Francois Hollande discussed with Erdogan the prospect of establishing a no-fly zone over portions of Syria that would provide a protected area for displaced civilians and for the training of moderate Syrian rebel forces.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused the U.S. of ignoring the risk of the fall of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a rebel bastion under attack by both government forces and Islamic extremists while helping Kurds defend Syrian frontier town of Kobani against the extremists.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned this week that Turkey, already sheltering 1.6 million Syrian refugees, may face a new influx should Aleppo fall, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Erdogan said over the weekend that a secure zone should be declared north of the 36th parallel in Syria, which would include Aleppo.

While Erdogan cut his affiliation to the governing AK Party as required by Turkish law following his election as president in August, he relies on its success to be able to effectively run the country along with the government.

“Ankara knows full well that Washington cannot agree to a military campaign to oust Bashar al-Assad,” Anthony Skinner, head of analysis for the Middle East and North Africa at U.K.- based forecasting company Maplecroft said in an e-mail Nov. 4. “Erdogan and Davutoglu are trying to foot-drag or negotiate their way out of this mess.”

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