Report

Turkey Bombs PKK Targets after Deadly Blast

At least 36 people were killed in a car bomb attack at a transportation hub near the Ministries of Justice and Interior in Ankara, Turkey, yesterday. No group has claimed credit for the attack, but Turkish security officials have said they believe the attack was carried out by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and that ...

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At least 36 people were killed in a car bomb attack at a transportation hub near the Ministries of Justice and Interior in Ankara, Turkey, yesterday. No group has claimed credit for the attack, but Turkish security officials have said they believe the attack was carried out by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and that one of the two bombers has been identified as a 24-year-old woman from Kars, in southeastern Turkey, who joined the PKK in 2013. The bomb uses similar explosive to a previous attack on a military bus convoy last month and was packed with pellets and nails to inflict more damage, officials told reporters. That attack was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a new group that claims to be a splinter of the PKK, but Turkish officials accused a Syrian Kurdish militia of orchestrating the attack.

Turkey has responded to the bombing by placing Syrian cities in the country’s southeast under curfew while the Turkish military conducts raids and other security operations in the area. Turkish warplanes also bombed 18 PKK sites in Iraq, including ammunition depots and shelters, the Turkish military said.

Syrian Peace Talks Resume in Geneva

With proximity talks between the parties to Syria’s civil war resuming in Geneva, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the new attempt to establish a dialogue is a “moment of truth” in the ongoing effort to reach a political transition agreement. The Assad regime’s foreign minister has said that discussion of political transition is not on the table, though, and U.S. and French diplomats have responded by saying that the regime’s delegation is trying to derail the talks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russia should pressure the regime to abide by its commitment to negotiate. At a press conference in Moscow today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia will support any agreed outcome of the Syrian political talks, with options including “federalization, decentralization, [and a] unitary state.”

Headlines

  • Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, seized U.S.-supplied weapons and attacked Free Syrian Army forces in Maarat Numan, in Idlib Province, in an effort to consolidate their control in the area; the town has held protests recently against Nusra’s occupation.

 

  • The Egyptian government announced yesterday that the justice minister, Ahmed el-Zind, had been fired; no reason was given but Zind was under fire from religious conservatives after commenting that he would imprison even the Prophet Muhammad if he committed a crime.

 

  • U.S. troops in Jordan fired GPS-guided rockets at Islamic State targets in Syria on March 4 in support of a rebel attack on an Islamic State position in the border town of al-Tanf; it’s the first reported instance of U.S. troops firing on the Islamic State from Jordan.

 

  • Kurdish peshmerga forces operating in Iraq say they have captured a U.S. citizen, Muhammad Jamal Amin, who claims to have been trying to enter Turkey after defecting from the Islamic State.

 

  • Hanan Al Hroub, a Palestinian teacher who works with refugees and specializes in educating children who have been traumatized by violence, won the Global Teacher Prize, a $1-million award for excellence in education sponsored by the Varkey Foundation.

Arguments and Analysis

Iranian Casualties in Syria and the Strategic Logic of Intervention” (Ali Alfoneh and Michael Eisenstadt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

“The spike in reported Iranian losses this February — after the drawdown of its surge forces and the supposed ceasefire — also raises a number of questions. Did Tehran simply delay the reporting of combat deaths that occurred at the height of the surge in order to soften their domestic impact? Or did the increased losses result from military factors such as a change in the rules of engagement or an increase in the tempo of operations as ceasefire negotiations intensified, perhaps to create leverage over the rebels? The answer is not clear at this time, though the ongoing Iranian death notices — with three more reported this week alone — show that Qods Force and IRGC Ground Forces personnel remain very much in the fight. All that can be said with confidence at this time is that Tehran’s strategy of using proxy warfare to manage risk and limit exposure in Syria has succeeded thus far. Should widespread fighting resume, the future success of this strategy will depend on Iran’s continued ability to find Shiite proxies to serve as cannon fodder — to keep its own losses down — and Russia’s cost/benefit calculus. This will also make it difficult for the manpower-short Assad regime and its casualty-averse foreign allies to retake territory far removed from the Syrian rump state, which now controls the coast and most of the country’s urban spine in the west. Therefore, Syria’s current partition into areas held by the regime, the rebels, and the Islamic State is likely to persist for a long time to come. This, however, serves Tehran’s interest: that Syria remain in a permanent state of crisis or civil war, in need of continued Iranian support.”

 

Egypt Running on Empty” (Joshua Stacher, Middle East Research and Information Project)

“The 2011 uprising did not create the mess — the decisions of powerful actors did. Pining for the status quo ante, the elites failed to meet the most basic popular demands; now they are trying to contain the lingering tensions while building a new regime amidst intense competition among old regime figures and newer entrants. These struggles, in addition to the structural fiscal weakness of the state and the poor economy, generate fears of a polity coming undone and explain the viciousness of the backlash. Is it a house of cards? Many Egyptian observers say that no amount of aid from the Gulf, US diplomatic cover and police brutality can keep the state running. More than one person openly told me that Sisi might be overthrown, despite the huge investments and grand spectacles that went into putting him on the wobbling throne, and despite his attempts to place his sons high up in intelligence agencies. It is a bold prognostication. Yet one need only read the newspapers and be in Cairo to see the outlines of such a narrative.”

-J. Dana Stuster

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