Weekly briefing: Turkey strikes in Syria

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

Friday, 11 October 2019: This week Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria. Turkish President Erdogan says Operation Peace Spring will establish a buffer along Turkey’s southern border with Syria to protect against what it deems as Kurdish terror groups, as well as remaining members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In the wake of Turkey’s strike, reports of Kurdish fighter deaths range from nine to 109. The Kurdish Red Crescent, a humanitarian aid group, says 11 civilians have been killed while the United Nations refugee agency says tens of thousands of people are fleeing the area. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) were an important ally to the United States in the fight against ISIL, but are now under attack just days after the US announced its troops would withdraw from the area, leaving the Kurds to their own devices. Nearby, Kurdish-led forces guard camps detaining around 90,000 ISIL fighters and their relatives, including many foreign nationals. The future of these camps are now in question, as the SDF turns its attention to Turkey’s attacks.

Turkey – Fast facts

According the latest Global Peace Index (GPI), Turkey has the highest terrorism score in the European region and an increasing level of fatalities in external conflicts.

However, the country remains a major recipient country for asylum seekers, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa region.

On the 2019 GPI, Turkey slipped two rankings to find itself at 152 out of 163 countries, in between Sudan and Pakistan.

In 2017, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was the deadliest terror group in Europe. However, no attack by the group killed more than four people. The PKK staged one attack outside Turkey in 2017, an arson attack on a mosque in Germany in which there were no deaths or injuries. There have been a number of similar incidents in 2018, which have also resulted in no fatalities or injuries.

Pressure over shared resources on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers could increase future tensions near Turkey. Upstream dams in Turkey are leaving downstream countries of Iraq and Syria increasingly water scarce. While the number of inter-state armed conflicts over shared rivers is small, this could change in coming years with heightened water scarcity and increased competition for water and river resources.

Reintegration of returnee fighters

Reintegration of ISIL returnees varies across different countries, ranging from heavy prison sentences to reintegration into the community.

The number of returnees among ISIL foreign fighters is expected to increase in the coming years, and countries of origin are tasked with the difficulties of the reintegration, rehabilitation and prosecution of fighters.

Most European states have adopted a prosecutorial approach to their foreign fighters. Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France have all favoured imprisonment and prosecution over a rehabilitative approach. While some of these countries do incorporate rehabilitative monitoring, their responses are more punitive than Muslim-majority countries.

Many Muslim-majority states, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Jordan have emphasised ideological de-radicalisation and rehabilitation. These countries have attempted to prioritise opportunities for returned fighters to reframe their interpretations of Islam and to avoid future violence.