Turkish base in Iraq targets Mosul’s liberation from ISIL

Turkish base in Iraq targets Mosul’s liberation from ISIL

Murat Yetkin
Turkish base in Iraq targets Mosul’s liberation from ISIL

The Turkish military training base near the Bashiqa district of Mosul, north of Iraq, was first established with the final aim of liberating Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). A total of 2,044 people, half of them Iraqi Kurdish fighters, have been trained there since March 2015, according to ranking official Turkish sources.

The base came to international attention over the weekend due to the recent reinforcement there. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Turkish official sources claimed to the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 6 that all the activity carried out at the base was in cooperation with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish officials and with the full knowledge of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition.

The sources said reinforcement operation to increase the number of Turkish troops at the base was planned before Turkey’s Nov. 24 downing of a Russian jet as it crossed the Syrian border, but it “might have been accelerated after the incident considering rising risks.” One described those risks as the “threat from ISIL after recently losing Sinjar to Peshmerga forces, and the potential renewed threat from the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK agitated by Russia or Iran.”

The reinforcement of Turkish Special Forces trainers by commando troops up to a total of 600, and the deployment of a number of tanks, was carried out last week to “provide better protection for the camp, not to change the training facility nature of it,” said one source. They also stated that the number of tanks sent to the base was not as high as 25, as has been widely reported. Instead, most of the tanks are on hold in Turkey by the Iraqi border.

Turkish sources say the reinforcement plans were discussed in detail with Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s counter-ISIL fight coordinator, during his latest visit to Ankara on Nov. 5-6. “The Americans are telling the truth,” one high-rank source said. “This is not a U.S.-led coalition operation, but we are informing them about every single detail. This is not a secret operation.”

The camp was recently visited by Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi on Nov. 27, and he said at the time that the “operation to liberate Mosul” would “begin soon.” Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz had a telephone conversation with Obeidi on Dec. 5 regarding media reports about the base, stressing that nothing was going on beyond anti-terrorism training activities. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also said in a public speech on the same day that Turkey respected Iraq’s territorial integrity, amid Iraqi President Fuad Masum’s reaction that Ankara should immediately end its violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Turkish sources say the training base near Mosul became operative in March 2015, following a meeting in Badhdad on Dec. 20, 2014 between Davutoğlu and Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi. “The original proposal was made by Atheel al-Nujaifi,” one source elaborated, referring to the former governor of Mosul before the city was captured by ISIL on June 11, 2014. “The entire process was carried out with the inclusion of Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] in Arbil, since the area is under their control and local forces are organized by al-Nujaifi and his office.”

When ISIL captured the city in June 2014, the Turkish Consulate General was stormed and 49 people, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, were taken hostage. They were able to be taken back on Sept. 20, 2014 thanks to contacts between the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and Sunni Arab tribes in the region.

Turkish military trainers are also supervising a KRG training camp near Diana. KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee said via his Twitter account that “Turkey has already trained Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces. The presence of further Turkish troops aims to expand this training program.” 

“The 1,000 Peshmerga who were trained by Turkish officers were very successful in liberating Sinjar from ISIL on Nov. 12,” anther Turkish source said, expressing hope that Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces who are organized under the group “Hashti Vatani” in the Bashiqa camp will also be effective in the offensive to “liberate Mosul.” Some Turkoman, Christian and Yazidi fighters are also getting military training under the supervision of Turkish troops, sources confirm. 

There is also a PKK dimension to the Turkish reinforcement, as well as the fight against ISIL. The military presence of the PKK in northern Iraq is considered a major threat for Turkey and a matter of political rivalry for the KRG. The PKK and the militia of its Syrian extension, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have been fighting against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but they have been trying to benefit from the situation for their own political agenda to establish a Kurdish state under its control in the region. Ankara thinks the situation after the downing of the Russian plane could end up leading to a fertile environment for manipulation of the PKK against Turkish anti-ISIL training camps in Iraq by pro-Russian of pro-Iranian agitators. Those are the two countries that are also main international supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.