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MURAT YETKİN > Fall of Mosul might worsen Kurdish problem, too

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Reports on June 10 indicated that Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq, near the Turkish and Syrian border, has fallen into the hands of militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

This is a new generation Islamist radical group that has been demonstrating incredible atrocities in the civil war in Syria. It was first established in 2004 against the U.S.-lead occupation of Iraq and then worked in collaboration with al-Qaeda, until al-Qaeda asked the organization to disband itself and join forces with al-Nusra in Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the ISIL, rejected this offer by Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda and stepped up ISIL's activities in the entire region.

Now it is about to capture Mosul and is threatening to capture Aleppo, the second biggest city of Syria, again near the Turkish border.

The fall of Mosul has caused deep concern in Ankara. Not only because Turkey is against the division of Iraq, which might give birth to a Shiite state in the south, further empowering Iran. A Kurdish state in the north along its borders would set an example for Kurds in Turkey, while a stepped-up civil war in Iraq would be dangerous, in addition to the one in Syria.

The fall of Mosul could revitalize an open wound in the collective memory of the Turkish state as well. The War of Independence, which brought the change of Turkey’s regime from a monarchy to republic in 1923, saw Iraq left under British mandate by an agreement on June 5, 1926, almost 88 years ago this week. The young republic lead by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was intimidated by a Kurdish rebellion in 1925, which they suspected that it was manipulated by Britain, and Ankara - with all its resources exhausted by the war - could not risk another conflict. The "Mosul problem" has always been considered one of the sources of the chronic Kurdish problem by the Turkish establishment.

The Syrian civil war enabled the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey to secure a liberated zone next to Turkish borders in Syria, which they call “Rojava.” It helped to endorse their vision of Kurdistan across the borders after the piece of land practically under PKK control in the North of Iraq - both in the lands of the Masoud Barzani-lead Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) - and the lands belong to central Iraq government, led by Nouri al-Maliki. The capture of Mosul is like a wedge driven between Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish territories.

In Turkey the “peace process,” as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan likes to call it, has reached a delicate threshold. The PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq is trying to force Erdoğan into a bargain prior to the presidential elections in August for autonomy in Turkey and the release, or at least easy access, to their leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is in the island-prison of İmralı, south of Istanbul.

The bringing down of a Turkish flag from a military garrison in the dominantly Kurdish populated city of Diyarbakır (which is regarded as gateway to Mosul and vice versa) on June 8 infuriated Erdoğan, like the majority of Turkish people.

So far it has not yet ruined the calculus of the “peace process,” but it may well have affected the calculus of presidential elections. The fall of Mosul into Islamist radical hands could put the whole domestic and diplomatic picture in jeopardy regarding for Turkish government.

June/11/2014

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