Syria Demands "Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal" Of "Terror Supporting" Turkey From Its Territory

Update: Kurdistan media and KRG officials say pro-Baghdad forces are set for a large scale assault on Kirkuk at any moment. Skirmishes south of Kirkuk city have already begun. IHS Jane's predicts: "Iran likely to test US reaction by ordering PMU assault on Kurdish forces in Iraq's Kirkuk province."

Kurdistan's Security Council has said
the Iraq Army and PMU forces issued a midnight deadline for Kurdish forces to leave Kirkuk. That deadline (Iraq time) has now passed:

"Iraqi forces have threatened to attack Peshmerga positions in south [and] west of Kirkuk at midnight unless all forces stand down." 

Iraqi Kurdistan media and some KRG officials are calling for Kurdish residents of Kirkuk to take up arms.

Have the fires of war begun? 

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The Syrian government has issued a strong condemnation of Turkey's recent military incursion into northern Syria, demanding "immediate and unconditional withdrawal" according to Syrian state media citing the foreign ministry. Though Turkey claims to be acting in accordance with the Astana agreement reached by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, Damascus is now calling the move a departure from the deal and an intentional violation of Syrian sovereignty, while further accusing Turkey of collaborating with al-Qaeda terrorists on the ground in pursuance of an expansionist policy. 

On Thursday a large Turkish army convoy consisting of more than 100 Turkish soldiers, including special forces and commandos, along with at least 30 armored trucks entered Syria’s Idlib region for a joint mission ostensibly to monitor a local de-escalation zone and "to pacify al-Qaeda linked militants" there, according to official Turkish statements.

Many analysts, however, predict that Turkey will not directly confront al-Qaeda, but instead will either allow the terror group to secure an exit or will recognize it under a new form or identify while pretending it to be a local organization.

The Syrian foreign ministry said on Saturday, “The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the incursion of Turkish military units in the Idlib Province, which constitutes to blatant aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and flagrant violation of international law.” According to SANA Syrian state news, the foreign ministry further noted that Turkey's military entered Idlib province "accompanied by Jabhat a-Nusra terrorists which shows clearly the close relationship between Turkish regime and terrorist groups, a matter that the international community should pay more attention to and take firm stance in order to oblige Turkey to end its support to terrorism which managed to shed the blood of Syrian people and destabilize the region and the entire world."

Meanwhile, Russia has not formally responded to Damascus' condemnation, and it is unclear how the Syrian government's declaration will be interpreted. Turkish government officials have consistently claimed complete cooperation and coordination between Turkey and Russia - though President Erdogan this week stressed that Turkey would implement its "own game plan, step by step" in Syria and that "we are not bounded by just resistance or defense."

Map source: Middle East Eye

Erdogan has also vowed to prevent the YPG (Syrian Kurdish "People's Protection Units") from establishing what he called a "terror corridor" to the Mediterranean. Turkey has long sought a green light from Russia to attack YPG-held Afrin - a city close to the Turkish border which is part of the Kurdish declared Rojava autonomous zone - as part of a broader Turkish attempt to prevent such a Kurdish zone from gaining any permanence. And it appears we are now witnessing the beginning this strategy which Turkey clearly holds as its top priority far and above pacifying Idlib (after all, Turkey assisted al-Qaeda's takeover of Idlib in the first place).

Both the Syrian Kurds and the Damascus government see Turkey's real motives in Idlib as merely a land grab using both local proxies (including al-Qaeda) and direct troop occupation. Turkey hopes the deal reached in Astana, Kazakhstan to implement "safe zones" in the area will give Russian backing to its war on the Kurds, and Turkey's first step which it began implementing this week is to ensure the YPG is contained. As a spokesman for the Turkish sponsored Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the Reuters this week, the Turkish deployment would "ensure the area is protected from Russian and regime bombing and to foil any attempt by the separatist YPG militias to illegally seize any territory."

In doing a deal with Turkey, it now appears Russia will walk a fine line between keeping a leash on Erdogan's machinations and conducting legitimate anti-terror operations with its Syrian ally.