Turkey seeks defeat of IS 'terrorists', wants Assad out
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The fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and other “terrorists” remains a Turkish priority, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, while adding that the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was also a primary aim of Ankara's.
The advance of Islamic State jihadists to within sight of the Turkish army on the border with Syria is piling pressure on Ankara to play a greater role in the US-led international coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamists in Syria and Iraq.
“We will fight effectively against both [the Islamic State group] and all other terrorist organisations within the region; this will always be our priority,” Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of parliament.
“We will [also] continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria, and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all [of its] citizens.”
Turkey, a member of NATO, shares a 1,200-km (750-mile) border with Iraq and Syria, and stray mortars from both conflicts have repeatedly hit Turkish territory. Ankara is also struggling to handle an influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees that have already flooded across the border.
Ankara deployed tanks and armoured vehicles on the Syrian border this week as fighting intensified and the government has sent a proposal to parliament that would extend its powers to authorise cross-border military incursions. Lawmakers are due to debate the motion on Thursday.
“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger,” Erdogan said, adding that the safe return of refugees to Syria was also a priority.
But Turkey also fears that the battle against Islamic State militants could strengthen the jihadists' enemies – namely Assad in Syria and the Kurdish fighters in Iraq who have links to Turkish Kurds, which have fought Ankara for greater autonomy for three decades.
Erdogan on Wednesday warned against certain groups "taking advantage" of the regional unrest to pursue their own ends.
“We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions, nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.”
Turkish officials have long expressed frustration over what they see as the West’s failures to heed their warnings that Assad’s continued grip on power and the sectarian policies of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki were threatening regional stability and sowing the seeds of Sunni radicalisation.
Meanwhile, Turkey's decision to back certain Islamist groups during the Arab Spring protests – including the now-deposed Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt – has isolated Ankara and put it at odds with other regional powers, including the current military leadership in Cairo and the Gulf Arab states.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)