Uninvited Turkish troops jeopardise the assault on Mosul

Burak Bekdil has an article in The Gatestone Institute where he makes the case that

  • Turkey’s primary concern is not to drive ISIS out of Mosul but to make it a “Sunni-controlled city” after ISIS has been pushed out. And this ambition jeopardizes the planned assault on ISIS.
  • Turkey’s pretext is that its troops are in Iraq to “fight ISIS.” That does not convince anyone.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fancies himself as a reincarnation of Sultan Abdulhamid II who was the 34th and last effective Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1876 to 1908. As Mustafa Akyol writes in Al Monitor:

Sultan Abdulhamid II (image Brittanica)

Sultan Abdulhamid II (image Brittanica)

In Turkey, there has been an unmistakable revival of the image of Sultan Abdulhamid II. The powerful Ottoman monarch who ruled the empire single-handedly from 1876 to 1909 is praised with a flood of articles in the pro-government press, endless messages on social media and various conferences and panels. The speaker of the Turkish parliament, Ismail Kahraman, a confidant of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even hosted an “International Symposium on Sultan Abdulhamid II and His Era,” at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, a relic from the latter-day Ottoman Empire. The great sultan, Kahraman said, “is a mariner’s compass to give us direction and enlighten our future.”

It is – at least partly – Erdogan’s vision of a new Ottoman Empire with himself as a Great Sultan which has triggered Turkish adventurism in Syria and Iraq. A key defensive component of Turkish actions are to eliminate – or at least to block – Kurdish or Shiite influence. The aggressive portion is to expand and promote Sunni dominated areas and keep on good terms with Saudi Arabia.

Their presence in northern Iraq is uninvited.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi renewed the call for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from his country and warned that Turkey’s military adventurism could trigger another war in the Middle East. He said: “We do not want to enter into a military confrontation with Turkey … The Turkish insistence on [its] presence inside Iraqi territories has no justification.”

The Iraqi parliament said in a statement: “The Iraqi government must consider Turkish troops as hostile occupying forces.” Baghdad has also requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to discuss the issue. The UNSC should “shoulder its responsibility and adopt a resolution to end to the Turkish troops’ violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” said Ahmad Jamal, spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

That ISIS is a Sunni group undermines Turkey’s explanations for why they are in Iraq. It is the support for Sunnis and the supposed opposition to ISIS which makes Turkey’s actions seem schizophrenic. The simple reality is that Turkey would like “good Sunnis” to be in control in northern Syria and in northern Iraq. Even the barabarians of ISIS are preferable to the Kurds (and Shiites in Turkish eyes are almost as bad as the Kurds).

Ankara remains defiant. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that Turkish troops would remain in Iraq. Turkey’s pretext is that its troops are in Iraq to “fight ISIS.” That does not convince anyone. Turkey’s intention is largely sectarian (read: pro-Sunni) and Yildirim admitted that in a not-so-subtle way when he said that the Turkish troops were in Iraq also “to make sure that no change to the region’s ‘demographic structure’ is imposed by force.”

Turkey fears that the aftermath of a planned assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and ISIS’s Iraqi stronghold, could see a heavy Shiite and Kurdish dominance in the Mosul area. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “Involving Shiite militias in the operation [against IS] will not bring peace to Mosul. On the contrary, it will increase problems.” Unsurprisingly Turkey’s pro-Sunni Islamists want Sunni dominance in a foreign country. This is not the first time they passionately do so.

The problem is that Turkey’s sectarian ambitions come at a time when the coalition is preparing a heavy offensive on ISIS-controlled Mosul. Turkey’s primary concern is not to drive ISIS out of Mosul but to make it a “Sunni-controlled city” after ISIS has been pushed out. And this ambition jeopardizes the planned assault on ISIS. ……. 

….. Turkey’s sectarian ambitions in neighboring Syria have ended up in total failure and bloodshed. Now Ankara wants to try another sectarian adventure in another neighboring and near-failed state, under the pretext of “bringing stability.” Yildirim said that Turkey “bears responsibility for stability in Iraq.” That is simply funny. You cannot bring stability to a country that looks more like a battleground of multiple religious wars than a country with just a few hundred troops.

Now that the assault on Mosul has started, it is already reported that the Turks are complicating and hindering the advance. Presumably they are trying to hinder Kurdish and Shiite forces and trying to assist the Iraqi Sunni forces.

Swedish Radio:

“Turkey jeopardizes the entire military operation by setting their insane demands”, says Mahmoud. “We do not want anyone other than the Iraqi army and peshmerga forces involved here on the Nineveh Plain”, he says.

Altercation between Turkey and Iraq have become increasingly poisonous in recent days. Iraq’s prime minister has told Turkey to stay out of the Mosul operation, while Turkish President Erdogan responds that it is out of the question, and at the weekend the Turkish newspapers published old maps of the Ottoman Empire which included Mosul.

Erdogan also stamped the Iraqi government as sectarian and fanatical. In Baghdad Shiite Muslims demonstrated against Turkey and demanded an end to the Turkish occupation of northern Iraq, referring to the soldiers at the military base Bashiqa.

The increasingly serious contradictions also reflects the regional power struggle, where Sunni Muslim Turkey is now viewed by many here as part of the Saudi sphere of influence, while the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government is considered part of Iran’s sphere of influence.


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