Is Turkey’s Insistence On Military Role In Mosul A Strategic Miscalculation? – Analysis


By Md. Muddassir Quamar

Turkey’s insistence on a role for itself in the ongoing joint offensive of Iraqi armed forces and Kurdish Peshmarga supported by limited US ground forces and air strikes to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State’s control has created rifts between Ankara and Baghdad. In the run up to the operation, named Qadimun ya Naynawa (We are coming Nineveh), on 11 October, while addressing a press meet in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “know his place” in response to Abadi’s call for Turkey to withdraw its troops from Bashiqa. Iraq is wary of a role for Turkey as it fears that the latter can undermine the Abadi government’s ability to control Mosul after liberation from the Islamic State. For its part, Turkey insists on a role to protect its interests (see below). Attempts by the US to mediate and coax Turkey into working under the US-led coalition have not yielded results.

Turkey has multiple reasons for insisting upon a role for itself. Firstly, it argues that Turkish forces are based in Bashiqa to provide training for the Kurdish Peshmarga and that its forces have been invited by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). It also argues that Baghdad had been informed of these plans and that Turkey is cooperating with the Masoud Barzai government in the fight against the Islamic State. Secondly, Turkey has interests in northern Iraq because of the domestic Kurdish question and the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Since the breakdown of Turkey-PKK peace talks in mid-2015, Turkey has intensified military action against the PKK and does not want the latter to maintain military bases in northern Iraq. The Kurdish insurgency in Turkey is a major domestic challenge and numerous peace talks have failed to resolve the issue. Moreover, Turkey has been worried about growing Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and Syria and the chances of a transnational Kurdish movement for autonomy which can provide impetus to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

Thirdly, Turkey is also concerned about the post-Islamic State power configuration in Mosul. It is supporting the former governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, and the Sunni militia loyal to him and wants him to have a leading role in Mosul after the city’s liberation. Turkey fears that a significant role for Baghdad and the Shia militia supported by Iran could lead to loss of Turkish influence in northern Iraq. Further, Turkey wishes to maintain good ties with the KRG for both economic and strategic reasons. But Iraq wishes to control Mosul and does not want it to slip under KRG control because of its oil-rich topography. Further, Iran is also insisting upon a role for the Shia militia as that will increase its own influence. Turkey also has concerns about the ability of the PKK and the Islamic State to launch attacks in its Kurdish dominated south-eastern region, which is already witnessing unrest.

Fourthly, Erdoğan has domestic political reasons to insist on an independent military role for Turkey in the battle for Mosul. His going public with criticism of Abadi and telling the latter to “know his place” serves well to trump up domestic support for the AKP. In the last few months, Turkey has witnessed several terrorist attacks leading to a number of deaths as well as a failed ‘coup’ attempt leading to opposition parties accusing the AKP government of inability to maintain peace and stability, staging a counter coup and stifling dissent. Under these circumstances, a direct military involvement in Mosul would give Erdoğan a premise to thump up AKP’s traditional support base and also appeal to Turkish nationalists. Finally, Erdogan’s insistence on a direct military role also hints at his neo-Ottoman ambitions.

Though Turkey has thus multiple reasons for insisting upon a role for itself in the battle for Mosul, the way Erdoğan has gone about it is fraught with danger. The situation in Iraq is fragile and sectarian violence frequent because of the rise of the Islamic State. Shia militias, especially those supported by Tehran such as the Kata’ib Hezbollah, have been accused of torturing and massacring Sunnis during the operation to liberate Falluja from the Islamic State’s control. If Turkey insists on a role for itself, the Shia militias will also want to have a role and that can lead to further bloodshed and an intensification of the sectarian violence. Moreover, it gives former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki a weapon to undermine the Haider al-Abadi government. It will also create problems between Baghdad and Erbil, which do not see eye to eye on Mosul’s future after its retake from the Islamic State. While the KRG wishes to bring Mosul under its control, for Baghdad this is not acceptable as it undermines the central authority.

Notably, the situation in Mosul is complicated. Although early signs indicated a fast advance by the coalition forces, the Islamic State is unlikely to give up all that easily a strategic location like Mosul. The city is not only a political base for the Islamic State but also allows it to control the supply routes to its territories in Iraq and Syria. Reports suggest that the leadership of the Islamic State including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is no more located in Mosul and it has been argued that the Islamic State can enter into a prolonged urban warfare in and around Mosul which is a highly populated area. In such a situation, the battle for Mosul can turn into a humanitarian crisis and hence demands cooperation rather than rifts.

Turkey’s unwillingness to agree to a role under the US-command emanates from domestic reasons – maintain the ruling party’s support base and underscore the Turkish ability to take military action to nullify all threats even if located outside its borders. However, such an approach is short-sighted as it can lead to an intensification of violence by PKK insurgents inside Turkey. Further, it risks escalating the already fraught sectarian situation in Iraq, undermining Iraqi sovereignty and not yielding any significant military or political gains for itself. By agreeing to work under the US command, Turkey can secure its interests without antagonizing Iraq or starting a strategic competition with Iran, and without risking further escalation in the sectarian fault lines that could engulf the entire region including Turkey. Given all this, Turkey’s insistence on a direct military role for itself in the battle for Mosul is an avoidable strategic risk.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses ( at

Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA)

The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues. The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) was formerly named The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

One thought on “Is Turkey’s Insistence On Military Role In Mosul A Strategic Miscalculation? – Analysis

  • October 29, 2016 at 11:02 am

    The four reasons provided in the article are fictitious. It should be noted that US imperialism has ordered Erdogan to enter Iraq and Syria. Sultan Erdogan started popularizing these four justifications about the existence of his troops in Iraq some time ago and the article now is stating them again to readers. But the crucial cause is very simple for Iraqis and others. Sultan Erdogan has been talking about a new map of Turkey which includes the North of Syria, including Aleppo and parts of Northern Iraq including Mosul and Kerkuk and their oil fields. Sultan Erdogan knows what VP Biden and US imperialism want in Iraq which is the division of Iraq into three regions. So, the Sultan is using this issue for his national interest. He goes to back to Lausanne agreement of 1923 which indicates that in case of dividing Iraq, then Mosul can be become part of Turkey. This agreement was implemented after the Ottoman empire lost World War I. So, his goal is to swallow parts of Iraq. Later he can take the entire Kurdish area, because Kurds are threat to his country. The Sultan’s vision is supported by Israel as well, because if it happens then Iraq and Iran will be isolated and the Arab resistance to Israel will die out. His dreams will not be realized because Turkey and all imperialists will be divided before Iraq. The Sultan is in danger because his country will be divided, because the Iraqi militia that he does not like will take all the Southern part of Turkey to create the new Kurdish state which was approved in 1920 by the Sevres agreement. Finally, I should state that that Turkey used to be a small part belong to Baghdad, the center of the Islamic empire, and therefore, if the Sultan is using historical maps as the criterion for drawing a new map for new countries, then Turkey should be part of Baghdad. It is also true that Turkey has supported Daesh and all terrorist organizations fighting in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, Turkey cannot be a part of fighting Daesh.


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