By Iran Review
By Alireza Rahimi*
Following the beginning of the Iraqi forces’ ongoing operation to liberate the northern city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists, the war of words and diplomacy between the governments of Iraq and Turkey over the presence of Turkish military forces on the Iraqi soil and their part in this operation still goes on. During this dispute, the Iraqi Prime minister Haider al-Abadi has talked about the possibility of the breakout of a regional war as a result of Turkey’s adventurism in Iraq and asked for immediate withdrawal of Turkey’s military forces from northern Iraq. In the meantime, the Iraqi parliament has voiced its strong opposition to continued presence of Turkey’s military forces in the country, demanding rapid expulsion of those forces and summoning of Turkey’s ambassador in Baghdad. At the same time, the Iraqi lawmakers have asked the government to condemn Turkey’s military as a force of occupation and take necessary measures in order to drive them out of the Iraqi territory. In parallel to these developments, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s foreign minister, asked Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit to take position in support of Iraq’s stance and emphasize his opposition to entry of Turkish forces into the Iraqi territory. Even the nomadic tribes in Iraq’s Anbar province have voiced their opposition to continued presence of Turkey’s military in their country and described it as an aggression against the national sovereignty of Iraq. In a related development, five political parties based in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, that is, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Movement for Change, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Unity Alliance of Iraq (which is commonly known as Iraq’s Unity), and the Communist Party of Kurdistan issued a joint statement in which they opposed Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and described it as a violation against the country’s international borders. Despite all these developments, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made controversial remarks in which he has insisted on the presence of his country’s forces in Iraq and their participation in the operation for the liberation of Mosul. He has even claimed that even if the so-called anti-Daesh coalition opposes participation of Turkish forces in the liberation of Mosul, he would seek alternative ways to do this.
The firm resolve of Turkey’s government, parliament and army for getting involved in the liberation operation for Mosul despite it being in blatant violation of all international treaties, is a telltale sign of the strategic importance of this measure in the eyes of Turkey’s government and some other political forces. A case to the point is recent remarks made by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, who had blamed the wrong foreign policy of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s government as the main reason why Turkey is not a partner to the anti-Daesh coalition in Mosul.
The most important strategic goals pursued by the Turkish government through participation in this operation can be summarized as follows:
1. Deployment of Turkey’s military forces in parts of the Iraqi territory around Mosul with the goal of gaining renewed control of the city: During recent days and at the peak of the war of words between the leaders of Iraq and Turkey, Erdogan mentioned historical control of the Ottoman Empire over the city of Mosul as a ground to justify Turkey’s presence in the liberation operation. Such arguments, regardless of totally refutable and paradoxical logic that underlies them, reveals the innermost layers of the current Turkish rulers’ thinking, whose main dream is to revive the lost grandeur of the past. Participation of Turkey in the operation to liberate Mosul will give the honor of freeing parts of Mosul to Turkey’s military forces and it is through this proposition that Turkey dreams about setting up its lasting presence in this city. On the opposite, this dream is just a nightmare for Iraqi statesmen, who consider this proposition as a prelude to long-term war in the region.
2. Creating a strategic fault line along the line of contact between Kurds in Iraq and Syria: The fear that Turkey has about Kurdish regions in northern Syria joining one another and forming an autonomous government along the southern borders of Turkey has made Erdogan take a tactical U-turn in his past positions and improve his country’s relations with Russia, which had been marred after downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish warplanes over Syria. In doing this, Erdogan has been actually trying to get the permission for military presence in northern Syria under the excuse of fighting against the Daesh terrorism. Of course, the main objective of this presence was to prevent Kurds from gaining more ground in the face of Daesh and joining Kurdish regions in northern Syria to one another. The fear that Turkey has about coalescence of Kurdish regions is not limited to its border with Syria, because the liberation of Mosul can open a line of contact and communication between Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Therefore, Ankara’s military presence in Mosul is also aimed to draw a wedge between these two Kurdish regions and this is another major goal pursued by Turkey through participation in the liberation operation of Mosul.
3. Military deployment behind the YPG front: Mounting pressure on forces affiliated with the pro-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) through deployment of Turkey’s military forces behind the front lines of this group would be possible through participation of Turkey in the operation to liberate Mosul and subsequent establishment of a Turkish military base in this city.
4. Preventing presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Mosul: Since forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are planning to take part in the operation to liberate Mosul, preventing their presence in this operation is another major goal pursued by the Turkish army. Participation of the PKK forces in the liberation of the Kurdish town of Sinjar followed by their continued presence in Sinjar despite opposition of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s government, and organizing the Sinjar Resistance Units (known as the YBS by its Kurdish name) by the PKK has been a bitter experience for Ankara and Turkey is by no means ready to allow repetition of that experience in Mosul. Bombardment of the PKK positions in Qandil Mountains by Turkish warplanes at the peak of tensions between Ankara and Baghdad and on the eve of the liberation operation for Mosul can be understood along the same lines.
5. To exploit Mosul’s oil resources: Despite its heavy dependence on energy resources, Turkey lacks necessary reserves to meet this need. Let’s not forget that up to a while ago, Turkey was a regular customer of Daesh oil despite many reports that discredited Turkish government in this regard and this shows the high importance of oil for this country. Finding a base in Mosul with the dream of controlling adjacent oil reserves in that region is another factor, which has motivated the government of the Justice and Development Party to take part in the Mosul operation.
6. Creating balance of power with Iran: Another strategic goal pursued by Turkey is to organize and reinvigorate militia forces affiliated with Ankara, which can be achieved through military presence in the Sunni-dominated city of Mosul and training those forces in Iraq. This plan aims to restrict Iran’s clout in Iraq and create some sort of power balance between Tehran and Ankara in the political arena of Iraq.
In general, the goals pursued by Turkey through taking part in the operation for the liberation of Mosul can be divided into short- and long-term categories. Creating a strategic fault line between Kurds in Iraq and Syria, deployment of Turkish troops behind the YPG front, preventing presence of the PKK in the region and its future moves, as well as creating balance of power with Iran are among short-term goals of Turkish government. The most important long-term goal pursued by Ankara through military participation in the Mosul operation is to dominate the city and oil reserves in that region. In view of Turkey’s military and political capabilities, short-term goals are more possible to be achieved, but long-term ones are less probable to be realized because they need permission from transregional powers.
Turkey’s insistence on realizing these goals can have untoward consequences for the country. Intensification of sectarian strife, posing threats to Iraq’s territorial integrity, violation of the country’s sovereignty and escalation of regional tensions can be among those consequences. To prevent the consequences of Turkey’s military operation in Iraq, international bodies must take steps to underline and guarantee rightful demands of the Iraqi government, on the one hand, while on the other hand, the Iraqi government and other regional countries must take steps to prevent Turkey’s government from going on with its destabilizing measures.
* Alireza Rahimi
Researcher on Political Issues