**Turkish Premier Davutoglu Says Russian Airstrikes in Syria Strengthen Islamic State **
Leader’s criticism signals Ankara has no intention of backing down in standoff over jet fighter’s downing
ISTANBUL—Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday accused Russia of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Turkmen minority in Syria, saying its airstrikes have only strengthened Islamic State.
In blunt comments that are likely to deepen strains with Moscow, Mr. Davutoglu also criticized Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria as counterproductive, and he defended Turkey’s deepening military involvement in the Middle East as essential for protecting his country’s security.
Mr. Davutoglu accused Russian forces of targeting Turkmen fighters and civilians to safeguard the Syrian coastal region that is the stronghold of support for President Bashar al-Assad and home to Russian military bases used to carry out airstrikes. Russia has said its airstrikes are targeting terrorist havens, although it views both Islamic State extremists and other rebel groups as terrorists.
“They want to ethnically cleanse this area, so that regime and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus will be protected,” he said in a rare interview with a small group of international reporters invited to his Istanbul office on the Bosporus.
“Their fight is not with Daesh,” he said, referring to Islamic State by the alternative name used in the region.
Mr. Davutoglu’s sharp criticism of Moscow signaled Turkey has no intention of backing down in its standoff with Russia over the downing of a Russian bomber by Turkish jets along the Syrian border last month.
While Turkmen, ethnic kin to the neighboring Turks, represent about 1% of Syria’s population of about 22 million, they are being called upon by Turkey and the U.S. to play a key role in the country’s chaotic conflict.
Like the majority of Syrian rebels, Turkmen are predominantly Sunni Muslim, and they were among the first to take up arms against Mr. Assad as he cracked down on protests. Mr. Assad is a member of the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam, a minority in Syria.
Related; UN said Daesh targeted the Turkmen:
UN: ISIS Massacred 700 Turkmen–Including Women, Children, Elderly
We have heard word that Iranian commanders have been injured or killed in this war, this article is stating that perhaps, the Iranian forces are making some withdrawals.
Western Officials: Iran Retreating From Syria Fight
Iran is beginning to withdraw its elite fighters from the Russian-led military campaign in Syria, according to U.S. and other Western military officials, suggesting a fissure in what President Barack Obama derided last month as a “coalition of two.”
U.S. officials tell me they are seeing significant numbers of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops retreat from the Syrian combat zone in recent weeks, following the deaths and wounding of some of top officers in a campaign to retake Idlib Province and other areas lost this year to opposition forces supported by the West and Gulf Arab States. As a result, the Russian-initiated offensive that was launched in September seems to be losing an important ally.
On Friday at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Russia’s initial plan was to take back Idlib and other cities that had fallen under rebel control within three months. “It’s not going to happen because of the military difficulties,” he said, adding that the campaign to date looked to be a “failure.” He cited the “incompetence” of Syria’s army as well as “the lack of determination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.”