The Turkish parliament has ratified a motion that extends the state’s authority to launch cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and Syria for another year, amid preparations for a military offensive in northern Syria.
The motion, which was sent to parliament with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s signature, received widespread support from deputies in the voting held on Oct. 8.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Good Party (İYİ) approved the motion, while the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) voted against it.
The approval of the motion came following the announcement by the White House regarding the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from an area in which Turkey has long sought to establish a “safe zone.”
Since the announcement on Oct. 7, Turkey has been dispatching troops to its border with northern Syria to launch an operation against the Kurdish-led forces, which had long been allied to Washington.
Dubbed “Peace Spring”, the operation aims to carve out a “safe zone” along its border to facilitate the conditions necessary for the return of Syrian refugees and drive back militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the dominant force in the SDF.
Turkey considers the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is treated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the U.S. and the European Union, and cites threats against its national security as the basis for the operation.
Speaking ahead of the voting, the head of the parliament’s National Defense Commission İsmet Yılmaz said the main goal was the prevention of a “terror corridor” in Turkey’s south.
“We would like to emphasize that Turkey’s aims are the protection of Syria’s territorial integrity, stability and the safe return of Syrians to their homeland. Our ultimate intent is to terminate the presence of all sorts of terrorists, including ISIS, the PKK and the YPG in northern Syria”, Yılmaz said, as he urged all political parties to back the motion and support the “fight against terrorism.”
CHP Group Deputy Chairman Engin Özkoç, meanwhile, criticized the government’s policies regarding Syria.
“We need to reiterate the respect for Syria’s territorial integrity in all of our meetings. We also need to explain the aim, duration and predicted results of this military operation. We need to ensure dialogue with Syria, Damascus and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad without intermediaries”, Özkoç said, adding Turkish soldiers were in Syria “because of the government’s ill-fated foreign policies.”
“Their safety means everything to us. You should very well know that our sons, country, pride and the region’s peace constitute the reasons for why we won’t say ‘No’ [to the motion],” he also said.
Earlier in the day, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the motion had his party’s backing, but with “deep sadness.”
Hişyar Özsoy, HDP deputy from the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, slammed Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks.
“We won’t say ‘Yes’ to this motion with deep sadness. We will say ‘No’ with a clear conscience”, Özsoy said, before adding Ankara’s security concerns were “unfounded.”
“At this point, we’re going through the most critical period with regards to the Kurdish issue. What’s perceived as a threat is the Kurds having a region in Syria that’s similar to the one in northern Iraq”, he also stated.
Maintaining that Turkey has been carrying out cross-border operations for 40 years, Özsoy stressed that “these issues can’t be solved through motions.”
“All the countries present in Syria need to get out of there in due time. Everyone’s at the table concerning Syria, except for the people actually living there”, the deputy added.
Operation Peace Spring is Turkey’s third military offensive in northern Syria since 2016, the first two being called Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch.
Another deputy addressing the parliament regarding the motion was Aytun Çıray from the İYİ Party. Çıray declared his party will not hesitate to grant the army authority for another year.
“Our most crucial interests are in danger. When the threats and the danger are so apparent and concrete, rejecting the motion does not even cross our mind” he said.
MHP Group Deputy Chairman Erkan Akçay said his party perceived the motion as a part of Turkey’s “right and legitimate fight against terrorism.”
“The cleansing of an area that’s 30-35 kilometers deep from terror is a guarantee not only for Turkey, but also for regional stability” Akçay said, referring to the planned “safe zone.”
“Turkey’s struggle won’t end until each and every region under a terror threat is cleared in Syria. Our struggle is right, legal and legitimate”, he added.