By Iran Review
By Alireza Rahimi*
It was last December when Turkey deployed its military forces to Bashiqa military base north of the Iraqi city of Mosul after which the war of words and diplomatic tensions escalated between governments in Baghdad and Ankara over violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Turkey. The tensions reached their peak as the time came for launching liberation operation of Mosul when the government of Turkey indicated its resolve to take part in that operation, prompting political and parliamentary officials as well as leaders of political parties in the two countries to take position on this issue.
Although up to a few days ago, American officials accompanied the Iraqi government in its rejection of participation by Turkish military in the operation to liberate Mosul, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has talked about an agreement reached to allow Turkey’s military to take part in the Mosul operation after meetings with Turkish officials. He noted that tensions between the two governments of Turkey and Iraq over the issue of Mosul can be done away with. Of course, Iraq’s government spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, denied any agreement in this regard, adding that Ankara would play no part in the Mosul operation. Later on, during a speech addressed to the 9th session of the Supreme Council of the World Assembly of the Islamic Awakening in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi emphasized that Turkey is only fighting to protect its own interests and expand its sphere of influence, thus implying his opposition to Turkey’s part in the Mosul operation.
The question that must be raised here is “what factors have changed the United States’ position on the participation of Turkish military forces in Iraq’s operation?” The accurate answer to this question needs information about the inner layers of the US government and its affiliated think tanks. However, a review of what happened in Iraq and Syria during past weeks can help us come up with the following possibilities in this regard:
1. Creating balance between the United States’ relations with Turkey and Kurdish forces: Kurdish forces, especially the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are among the most important allies of the United States in Syria and in the war against Daesh and, therefore, maintaining the United States’ relations with these forces is essential to achieving Washington’s goals in Syria. Among those goals, one can mention recapturing the Syrian city of Raqqah from Daesh through help from these Kurdish forces, which can bolster the United States’ standing in Syria in the face of Russia. However, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, whose military arm is the YPG, has set recognition of a federal Kurdish government by the United States and participation of Kurds in future negotiations on the fate of Syria as conditions for Kurdish forces to help the United States in the Arab country. These conditions are among issues, which Turkey says will never accept and if realized, there would be intensified tension in relations between Ankara and Washington. Therefore, obtaining Turkey’s consent through giving Ankara the green light to take part in the Mosul operation can be some form of give and take in order to create a balance between demands of the United States’ allies, that is, Turkey and the Kurdish forces.
2. Preventing Turkey from getting too close to Russia: Turkey is the United States’ strategic ally in the Middle East region and is among important members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, developments, which took place during past months both inside Turkey (including the botched coup against the government of the Justice and Development Party) and outside the country (the alliance formed by the United States and Kurdish forces followed by the Kurdish fighters’ victories along Turkey’s border with Syria) stirred so much concern in Turkey that Ankara took a U-turn on Russia and tried to mend fences with Moscow. As a result, Ankara put improvement of relations with Moscow, which had soured after Turkey’s military aircraft shot down a Russian bomber jet over Syria, on top of its political agenda and this development paved the way for overt and covert agreements between the two countries. Since preventing Turkey from getting too close to the United States’ international rival, that is, Russia, is of strategic importance to Washington, this can be part of the reason behind the United States’ change of policy on the participation of Turkey in the Mosul operation.
3. Assuring continued cooperation of Turkey with the US-led coalition: Turkey’s increasing disgruntlement with the United States’ policies in Syria and Iraq can prompt officials in Ankara to take obstructionist steps against the United States’ goals and finally lead to reduced cooperation of Turkey with the US-led coalition. Therefore, maintaining that cooperation, especially with regard to the access by coalition forces to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base, could be another reason why the United States wants to appease Turkey.
Without a doubt, the change in the United States’ stance on the participation of Turkey’s military forces in the operation to liberate Mosul has no reason but an effort by Washington to protect its interests and goals in Syria and Iraq, in particular, and in the entire Middle East, in general. The government of Iraq, which has so far taken correct steps in this regard, must continue to remain vigilant in the face of such political maneuvers and put on top of its agenda the realization of the country’s national interests. In doing so, it must never give in to external pressures, which can be followed by untoward consequences. It goes without saying that protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as preventing widening of ethnic and religious gaps are among indispensable principles of all countries in their effort to protect their national interests.
Doctoral Degree in Political Science