As I have mentioned in previous posts last month, Qatar is taking an increasingly important role in the Syrian crisis after having a turbulent relationship with Syria over the last decade. Qatar has also been competing with Turkey in an attempt to end up as a major influencer in any future Syria.
Now, almost a month later, both countries as ramping up attempts to influence a future Syria. Starting with Turkey. It has stepped up its military presence at Syria’s border in recent weeks, staging military exercises and even entering Syria if rumours are to be believed. The reason behind this is to deter the Kurds in the North East of Syria from thinking of establishing a semi autonomous state, modeled on the Iraqi model, where Kurds have a semi autonomous government from Baghdad (see here for my post on Syrian Kurds benefiting from the Syrian Crisis).
The fear is that any semi autonomous state in Syria could help support the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a paramilitary organisation that is and has been attacking Turkish military forces in eastern Turkey for decades, and empower the Kurdish cause. Turkey is so concerned about the Kurdish issue, Turkey sent its Foreign Minister to visit Northern Iraq and speak to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) about supporting Turkey if the Kurds in Syria become too much of a problem. Though focused on security, the meeting showed how far Turkey was willing to go in influencing future events in Syria, as the trip strained relations between Baghdad and Turkey, with Baghdad wanting to maintain control of Iraqi Kurds.
Qatar, however is behaving a lot more subtly than Turkey in its attempt to gain influence. Since early 2012, it has been providing training to Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters based in Turkey, hoasted numerous conferences on the Syrian crisis and put its influencial regional media (Al JAzeera) fully behind the rebel cause, things that will not easly be forgotton by the rebels. It has also been attempting to actively help the rebel cause (unlike turkey who passively allow the FSA to train and receive support within its borders) by providing financial support to rebel fighters to buy weapons as well as financially tempting Syrian civil servants to defect. Just how far Qatar’s influence has risen since the start of the Syrian Crisis was seen when Iran’s Foreign Minister asked on the 5th of August not just Turkey but also Qatar for assistance in securing the release of 48 Iranian hostages held by elements of the FSA.
Turkey’ brazen and brash moves with Syria, especially by its military, though capturing the worlds media and is not popular on the ground. Many Syrian’s have called for Turkey to intervene in Syria but as of yet it has not responded. In addition, by supporting the FSA but targeting the Kurds, Turkey find itself unpopular in any future Syria. Qatar’s quiet maneuverings on the other will and are certainly helping it gain friends where it counts most, with the people on the ground, and with the people who may end up running the show.
J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons
This post first appeared on “The Old UAR” a political blog that focuses on events in the Middle East that is run by Jonathan Bertman.