Turkey and Western powers escalate war rhetoric in response to Istanbul attack

By Thomas Gaist
13 January 2016

The bombing of a heavily trafficked tourist area in Istanbul’s district of Sultanahmet killed at least 10 and wounded 15 more, after a 27-year-old bomber detonated a suicide vest near a group of tourists preparing to enter the Blue Mosque on Tuesday.

The Turkish government has declared a general ban on media coverage of the incident and the response of the security apparatus. This marks the fourth time the government has imposed a general ban of news coverage of a political crisis in the past year. It is necessary to “prevent the public order from being seriously undermined,” the Turkish authorities said.

The attack has provoked a familiar outburst of threats and moralizing from the Turkish and NATO elites.

“I strongly condemn the terror incident that occurred in Istanbul, at the Sultanahmet Square, and which has been assessed as being an attack by a Syria-rooted suicide bomber," Erdogan said Tuesday in response to the incident.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the attack in remarks from Berlin, declaring that “the terrorists are enemies of all free people—indeed, they are enemies of all humanity.”

“We are in close solidarity with the people of Turkey. I mourn for our compatriots,” Merkel said.

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier chimed in with condemnations of the “barbaric, cowardly act of terrorism,” assuring German’s allies in Ankara that “for us, these are very difficult hours of sadness and horror.”

The feigned sympathy of the top German officials is an expression of moves by German imperialism to forge closer relations with the Turkish elite, as Berlin accelerates its drive to carve out neocolonial spheres of influence in Syria, Iraq and further afield.

The Obama administration has issued its own denunciations of the attack, and likewise signaled that the bloodshed will serve as the pretext for further US military involvement in Turkey.

“We stand together with Turkey, a NATO ally, a strong partner and a valued member of the Counter-ISIL coalition, in the face of this attack and pledge our ongoing cooperation and support in the fight against terrorism,” US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said

The hypocrisy of the German and Turkish governments’ denunciations of terrorism and ISIS is surpassed only by those of the US. The US, Turkey, and the NATO powers have all worked systematically to mobilize and arm leading terror groups waging war in Syria, along with their various affiliates and sub-franchises.

Southeastern Turkey and the border area are now among the most heavily militarized and surveilled areas on the planet. Turkey has closed the border against refugees from the Syrian war, and the Turkish government has carried out continuous mass detentions and arrests along the border in the past six months.

Despite this, ISIS has been able to transfer fighters, weapons, along with smuggling refugees for profit. The flow of ISIS weapons, fighters, human trafficking and commodities has continued. ISIS cells have continued to launch successful attacks within Turkey, with bombings rocking Turkey’s cities and towns at regular intervals.

Suicide attacks in July killed more than 30 peace activists en route to Kobani. Two suicide bombings in October targeted the capital of Ankara’s main train station, killing a total of some 130 people, and an artillery attack struck one of Istanbul’s main airports in December.

ISIS has run a “sophisticated” cross-border people-smuggling operation along the Turkish-Syrian border, passenger lists compiled by ISIS’ “immigration department” that were seized by Kurdish forces and made available to the Guardian show.

Evidence has already emerged making clear that the Turkish ruling elite is collaborating with ISIS in various money-making schemes, including by importing large quantities of oil produced under ISIS control.

ISIS was reaping as much as $8-10 million per month in sales, and took in more than $40 million during a one-month period in early 2015, according to unnamed US officials cited by NBC News.

ISIS oil exports to Turkey have flowed directly across the border in massive truck convoys, at times including hundreds of vehicles. ISIS commanders operating along the border enjoy “full cooperation” from the Turkish military, statements by a former ISIS member cited by Newsweek in November show.

“A lot of people now are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey,” a US ex-Treasury Department terrorism official told Business Insider in November.

Turkish officials have repeatedly hosted ISIS representatives at compounds owned by Turkish intelligence, as part of efforts to mobilize Al Nusra fighting groups against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and affiliated Kurdish forces in northern Syria, according to reports in Turkish media.

ISIS casualties are frequently evacuated across the border, and allowed to receive treatment at hospitals in Turkey, according to residents of the border area.

Attacks such as Tuesday’s suicide bombing are not the product of terrorist forces that are external to the power structure within Turkey, and more broadly, to the US and NATO imperialist powers. They are essentially state-sponsored and state-instigated events, carried out by forces that have been armed, trained and supported by Ankara and the Western powers for years.

“Turkey’s assistance to the Islamic State goes beyond providing open borders for ISIS militants,” Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi, from the Near Eastern Department of the University of California, Berkeley, writes, noting that ISIS is now reaping as much as $2 million per day in oil revenues from smuggling operations.

Every new terror attack provides an additional pretext for the war policies sought by the Turkish state. Like its allies in Washington, Ankara is determined to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and install a new leadership to serve the interests of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and their US and Western backers.

Ankara is also determined to escalate its military operations against the Kurdish minorities both within Turkey and in northern Iraq, where hundreds of Turkish troops have taken up positions in recent months, in defiance of repeated demands by Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi for their withdrawal.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Erdogan once again signaled his commitment to continued Turkish military operations in northern Iraq, saying that the latest bombing in Istanbul proved the necessity for Turkish troops to combat ISIS in Iraq.

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