By Nauman Sadiq
In his newly released book “Rage,” American journalist Bob Woodward has corroborated what was long known to be an open secret: the existence of a Faustian pact between Donald Trump and President Erdogan of Turkey in which the latter agreed to cover up the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and also let Washington hunt down Islamic State’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hiding in Syria’s Idlib, bordering Turkey, in October last year in return for Ankara mounting Operation Peace Spring in northeast Syria with Trump’s permission in October 2019.
In an informal conversation with Woodward, Donald Trump boasted that he protected Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from congressional scrutiny after the brutal assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. “I saved his ass,” Trump said in 2018, according to the book . “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”
When Woodward pressed Trump if he believed the Saudi crown prince ordered the assassination himself, Trump responded: “He says very strongly that he didn’t do it. Bob, they spent $400 billion over a fairly short period of time,” Trump said.
“And you know, they’re in the Middle East. You know, they’re big. Because of their religious monuments, you know, they have the real power. They have the oil, but they also have the great monuments for religion. You know that, right? For that religion,” the president noted. “They wouldn’t last a week if we’re not there, and they know it,” he added.
Regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Erdogan administration released American pastor Andrew Brunson on October 12, 2018, which had been a longstanding demand of the Trump administration, and also decided not to make public the audio recordings of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the assassination.
In return, the Trump administration promised to comply with Turkish President Erdogan’s longstanding demand to evacuate American forces from the Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, and the withdrawal was eventually effected an year later in October last year.
In the Operation Peace Spring in October 2019, the Turkish armed forces and their Syrian proxies invaded and occupied 120 kilometers wide and 32 kilometers deep stretch of Syrian territory between the northeastern towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. It’s worth pointing out that although Turkish forces invaded northeast Syria in October last year, the negotiations were going on for almost an year since December 2018.
Trump immediately announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria after losing the midterm elections in November 2018. But the Pentagon kept delaying the evacuation of American forces from northern Syria to appease Washington’s Kurdish allies. However, once Turkish armed forces and allied militant proxies invaded northeast Syria in October last year, the Pentagon was left with no other choice than to redeploy American forces to Kurdish-majority areas al-Hasakah and Qamishli in northeast Syria.
Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was reportedly made during a telephonic conversation with Turkish President Erdogan on December 14, 2018, before President Trump made the momentous announcement in a Tweet on December 19. The decision was so sudden that it prompted the resignation Jim Mattis, then the Secretary of Defense, according to a December 22, 2018, Associated Press report .
Another demand Ankara made to Washington was to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift the Saudi-UAE blockade imposed in June 2017 against Qatar, which is ideologically aligned with Turkish President Erdogan’s AKP party as both follow the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the Khashoggi assassination and the international outrage it generated against the Saudi royal family, Riyadh tried to assuage Doha and invited Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh on December 10, 2018, though Doha snubbed the goodwill gesture by sending a low-ranking official to the meeting.
In return for the generous favors, Trump got the most coveted feather in his cap as Turkey let US Special Forces kill fugitive leader of the Islamic State weeks after the Turkish Operation Peace Spring in northeast Syria in October last year.
It’s important to note in the news coverage of the killing of al-Baghdadi that although the mainstream media had been trumpeting for the last several years that the Islamic State’s fugitive chief had been hiding somewhere on the Iraq-Syria border in the east, he was found hiding in the northwestern Idlib governorate, under the control of Turkey’s militant proxies and al-Nusra Front, and was killed while trying to flee to Turkey in Barisha village five kilometers from the border.
The morning after the night raid, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported  on Sunday, October 27, that a squadron of eight helicopters accompanied by warplanes belonging to the international coalition had attacked positions of Hurras al-Din, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, in Idlib province where the Islamic State chief was believed to be hiding.
According to “official version”  of Washington’s story regarding the killing of al-Baghdadi, the choppers took off from an American airbase in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, flew hundreds of miles over the enemy territory in the airspace controlled by the Syrian and Russian air forces, killed the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State in a Hollywood-style special-ops raid, and took the same route back to Erbil along with the dead body of the terrorist and his belongings.
Although Washington has conducted several airstrikes in Syria’s Idlib in the past, those were carried out by fixed-wing aircraft that fly at high altitudes, and the aircraft took off from American airbases in Turkey, which is just across the border from Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. Why would Washington take the risk of flying its troops at low altitudes in helicopters over the hostile territory controlled by myriads of Syria’s heavily armed militant outfits?
In fact, several Turkish journalists, including Rajip Soylu, the Turkey correspondent for the Middle East Eye, tweeted  on the night of the special-ops raid that the choppers took off from the American airbase in Turkey’s Incirlik. As for al-Baghdadi, who was “hiding” with the blessing of Turkey, it is now obvious that he was the bargaining chip in the negotiations between Trump and Erdogan, and the quid for the US president’s agreeing to pull out of Syria was the pro quo that Erdogan would hand Baghdadi to him on a platter.