PRAYER ALERT: It is hard to tell whether Turkish President Recep Erdogan and ISIS are allies or enemies. Under pressure from the US, in October Erdogan began letting Kurds cross the border to fight ISIS’ invasion of Kurdish Syria. But a month later, Kurdish activists said that Turkey was defying its agreement with the US, and was openly supporting ISIS. The Kurds claim that ISIS was using Turkey as the base for attacks on Kurds in Kobani, Syria. Now that the Kurds have retaken Kobani, Turkish forces are clashing with the Kurds again. The Kurds have proven to be the only effective ground force against ISIS in Syria. But both Erdogan and ISIS have a stake in denying the Kurds any more ground.
In February, Erdogan agreed to a US plan to train and arm Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. Then in early March, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front overran the most prominent CIA-backed Syrian rebel group, the Hazzm Movement. CIA weapons fell into Nusra hands. Some of the US-trained Syrian rebels joined Nusra. Now Turkey is skeptical of the US plan. In its present form, it would train only 5000 Syrian rebels a year. That is far too few to defeat either Nusra or ISIS. But if Erdogan and ISIS were to join forces, Erdogan might achieve his dream of a revived Turkish caliphate—ruled by him.
This caliphate, known as the Islamic Ottoman Empire, lasted from 1299 to 1924. At its broadest extent it ruled over most of the Middle East. It included large portions of Eastern Europe and North Africa. ISIS also craves the revival of this caliphate. But it has proven to be incapable of governing the lands it has seized. Will Erdogan and ISIS unite in their quest for a caliphate? Will ISIS do the dirty work of conquest, and Erdogan the harder work of governance?
Of course, governance is less hard when a dictator creates a personality cult. And that is what is now arising in Turkey…
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