How Turkey Might Disrupt the Operation to Retake Mosul from ISIS
With the Iraqi government, Kurdish peshmerga fighters, tribal militia groups, U.S. special operations forces, and coalition airstrikes converging on Mosul, one major global power is threatening to undermine the push toward the Islamic State’s largest remaining redoubt: Turkey. The leaders of Iraq and Turkey have been trading rhetorical barbs in recent weeks, and Turkey is taking concrete steps to encroach on a battle that none of the other involved parties welcomes it in.
Referencing Turkey’s former Ottoman-era rule, and the Ottoman Parliament’s claim to Mosul being Turkish territory, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a recent speech: “We have a historical responsibility in the region.”
But the modern states involved in the fight to reclaim Mosul from ISIS want Turkey to refrain from joining them. In a recent editorial in The National Interest, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, warned of what an active Turkey in Iraq might portend: “there is danger of a war within a war that could damage the prospects for retaking and stabilizing Mosul,” he wrote.
To Mosul’s north, the Turkish government maintains a unit of soldiers at a base in the town of Bashiqa, without the approval of the Iraqi government. A U.S. official familiar with Turkey’s presence in the country told the New York Times under the condition of anonymity that a unit of 600 to 800 Turkish soldiers are stationed in Bashiqa, training peshmerga forces, and Sunni Arab fighters, as well as launching tank and artillery shells at ISIS targets. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently demanded they leave.
Turkish PM laying new/old claim to Mosul, Kirkuk, Aleppo and some Greek islands. Turkish army already on outskirts of Mosul and Aleppo. https://t.co/uwYZuedPVL
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) October 24, 2016
As it has done in Syria, Turkey is flexing its military might in another sovereign state without approval, breaching the contract of sovereignty with tank and troop deployments. So what does it gain by chipping into the Mosul operation?
For one, it may hope to protect against a push by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party–a U.S. ally that Turkey deems a terrorist organization–in southeast Turkey. The group maintains bases in the mountainous regions north of Mosul. Ethnic Turks live in areas around Mosul, so it has a stake in protecting them as well, especially considering Iran’s influence in the region.
Perhaps foreshadowing Khalilzad’s gloomy forecast of a war within a war, Abadi issued a missive to the Turkish government in a recent speech: “We are ready for them,” he said. “This is not a threat or a warning, this is about Iraqi dignity.”