Analysis: What is Turkey trying to achieve in Iraq?

This article appeared in Al Jazeera today. I’m abridging it a little:

“Any attempt to change Mosul’s demographic composition would be a direct threat to Turkey’s security, analysts say.

“Only weeks before Iraqi troops and their local and international partners start their push to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), the leaders of Turkey and Iraq have been caught in a war of words that could derail the Mosul liberation efforts.

730768b961374fc195b9f53e9633b8c6_6Mosul, home to up to 1.5 million people, has been the headquarters of ISIL’s self-declared caliphate in northern Iraq since 2014. The battle for the city, expected later this month, is likely to shape the post-ISIL Iraq.

Turkey’s President Erdoğan also said that Turkey is determined to participate in the operation to retake Mosul from ISIL, with or without Baghdad’s approval. Turkish media later reported that Turkey is planning to participate in the Mosul operation with an invitation from the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani.

Turkey’s parliament voted two weeks ago to extend the deployment of an estimated 2,000 troops across northern Iraq by a year to combat “terrorist organisations”. Around 500 of these troops are stationed in the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq, training local fighters who will join the battle to recapture Mosul.

Abadi’s government requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the issue, and both countries summoned each other’s ambassadors in a mounting diplomatic standoff. “It is hard to take Baghdad’s threats seriously,” Ali Faik Demir, an expert on Turkish foreign policy from Istanbul’s Galatasaray University, told Al Jazeera.

“A country that cannot protect its territorial integrity and eliminate terrorist elements within itself cannot threaten a neighbour for protecting its own interests. Especially when that neighbour was invited in to the country by Mosul’s former governor to train Sunni militias who are preparing to fight ISIL.”

According to analysts the legitimacy of the government in Baghdad is slowly eroding amid sectarian tensions, foreign interventions and the ISIL occupation. Abadi, say analysts, is trying to use Turkey’s presence in Northern Iraq to fuel a new brand of Iraqi nationalism to keep at least certain parts of the country intact in the post-ISIL era.

” Turkey is concerned that once ISIL fighters are pushed out of Mosul, the government in Baghdad will make it difficult for Sunni residents of the city to live there. Erdogan previously said that Mosul, which was seized by ISIL two years ago, belongs to “its Sunni residents”.

Analysts believe that Turkey’s concerns about the future of Mosul should not be interpreted as an attempt to reshape a sovereign country’s demographic make-up. “We have to remember Iraq’s current borders were drawn in the Sykes-Picot agreement,” Demir said.

“Those borders are nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn in the sand by the British. So the situation can only be analysed realistically from a city-centric perspective. Mosul is a historically Sunni city and any attempt to change its demographic composition would be a direct threat to Turkey’s security,” he said.

Analysts emphasised that Turkey’s uneasiness about the prospect of having sectarian militias help Iraqi army in the Mosul liberation operation should not be dismissed simply as a desire to protect fellow Sunnis in the region. “If [these forces] push into Mosul, where will the Sunni residents of the city go?” asked Demir. “Of course they cannot go to Syria, so they will move north, into Turkey. ”

Turkey is already hosting 2.7 million refugees, he said.  “Turkey simply cannot absorb another wave of refugees, so the Turkish government and military need to take necessary precautions to make sure residents of Mosul can stay in Mosul after ISIL is ousted from their city.”


5 thoughts on “Analysis: What is Turkey trying to achieve in Iraq?

    • Yes, the relationship between Turks and Kurds is more complex than outsiders would like to depict. And who are the “local and international partners” of those Iraqi troops trying to “retake” the city of Mosul? Who, even, are the “leaders of Iraq” these days?

  1. Africa, Middle-East, East Europe, Asia, South China Sea:
    Borders are likely to be redrawn, but the real perpetrators are not publicly stating this goal…

    “Those borders are nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn in the sand by the British”…

    What information have you seen about the possibility that Turkey may have an objective to expand its territorial borders?
    Recent quotes attributed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that criticized the Treaty of Lausanne for limiting the borders of Turkey is a teasing breadcrumb…

    The possibility for hidden agendas lurking behind geopolitics is an obvious complexity in the matrix with governments’ debt crisis, expensive military grade weapons alongside covert operations in an escalating world war with “local and international partners” – amazingly some fail to acknowledge it is state-funded-terrorism.

    • Hard to know. Certainly President Erdoğan is talking about Turkey’s “interests” extending beyond its territorial borders. I don’t think Turkey has plans to actually extend those borders – but the government is justifiably concerned that other countries, notably the US, and more recently Russia, in pursuing their own “interests” beyond their own borders, are causing a lot of problems for Turkey. Most recently the huge flow of refugees from Syria is the prime example. More serious dangers, however, are posed by the chaos the US has created in the region by its invasions, occupations and covert operations over the years. The US has been using Kurds in the region for its own purposes, eg to overthrow Saddam in Iraq, and undoubtedly promising them an “independent” Kurdistan in return, thus creating a threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity. George W Bush desperately wanted Turkey to participate in his invasion of Iraq to show it wasn’t just a Christian crusade. Similarly, the Obama administration has long been pressuring Turkey to participate actively in the “war” against ISIS/Daesh. Now Turkish forces have become involved, but of course Turkey’s government is going to look out for its own interests, nd not just “poodle” along behind the USA, as other country’s have done to their cost.

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