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MIDEAST >Tal Afar a ‘sensitive target’ amid reports of Shiite offensive: Erdoğan

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Turkey will reinforce its troop deployments in the border town of Silopi amid a possible Shiite offensive to liberate Tal Afar, which has a sizeable ethnic Turkmen population and is considered a sensitive target for Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.

“If al-Hashd al-Shaabi [Shiite militia] causes terror there in [Tal Afar], our response to it will be different,” Erdoğan said Oct. 29. 

The al-Hashd al-Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella organization by Iran-backed Shiite militias, announced on Oct. 29 that they had launched an attack against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants west of Mosul, a week after an offensive to retake the city began.

“The operation aims to cut supplies between Mosul and Raqqa and tighten the siege [of ISIL] in Mosul and liberate Tal Afar,” militia spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi told AFP, referring to ISIL’s main strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Al-Assadi said the operation aimed to retake the towns of Hatra and Tal Abta as well as Tal Afar.

Erdoğan did not confirm the claims, indicating that the information they received had not yet verified such movement. 

However, he stated that Ankara was reinforcing its troops in the southeastern district of Silopi in response to any al-Hashd al-Shaabi move on Tal Afar.

“As a precaution, we have deployed troops in Silopi. I would like to state that we will increase our efforts to augment that [reinforcement of the troops]. Tel Afar and Sinjar are very sensitive targets for us right now. Of course the joint activity with Nineveh fighters as well as peshmerga forces continues,” he stated.

The involvement of Shiite militias in the Mosul operation has been a source of contention, although some of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi’s top commanders insist they do not plan to enter the largely Sunni city.

Ankara has repeatedly warned that it would take measures if there is an attack on the city, which has a sizeable ethnic Turkmen population, as part of a wider U.S.-led offensive to retake Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State.

Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arab politicians have also opposed their involvement which has a military presence east of Mosul despite repeated demands by Baghdad for the forces to be withdrawn.

Relations between the al-Hashd al-Shaabi and the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIL are also tense, but the paramilitaries enjoy widespread support among members of Iraq’s Shiite majority. 

Tal Afar was a Shiite-majority town before the Sunni extremists of ISIL overran it in 2014, and its recapture is a main goal of Shiite militia forces.

ISIL overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained significant ground and Mosul is the last big city held by the jihadists in the country.

October/30/2016

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