Mosul operation: First test of new Turkish–Iran ties

Mosul operation: First test of new Turkish–Iran ties

Elections that took place in Iran on Feb. 26 have ended with the victory of the so-called moderates against the hardliners.

Those who are interested in developments in Iran will have by now read in the Hürriyet Daily News and elsewhere that while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will continue his efforts to normalize relations with the West, the policies that Tehran pursues in the region will see no major change. While some of those policies look to be in line with Western policies, others are in collision with Western interests. 

While Iran’s support in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq suits the West’s interests, its support for the Bashar al–Assad regime obstructs the West’s (now long forgotten) aim of toppling the regime.

But managing contradictions is part of the game in international politics. So just as Western countries will continue to intensify relations with Iran, Turkey should also use this new era to have a better dialogue with the Iranian government – especially on regional issues. 

In this sense, we could expect an exchange of messages between the two capitals following the recent election. Probably an invitation will also be extended to the Iranian president and other ministers, as it is Tehran’s turn to pay a visit.

Concerned by Turkey’s intensifying ties with its archenemy Saudi Arabia, Iran will probably want to seize the opportunity to warm the air with Ankara and lure the government’s appetite with lucrative business proposals.

While Turkey would be eager to compensate its recent economic losses over tension with Russia, it will prove much harder to bridge the gap on regional issues.

One of the issues of concern to both sides is the upcoming operation to liberate Mosul from ISIL. News is out that the Iraqi army is deploying thousands of soldiers to a northern base in preparation for the operation. The aftermath of the operation will be just as important as the operation itself, as it will determine whether ISIL can later make a comeback. For that, the “hearts and minds” of local Sunnis will be critical. That is why Turkey has been warning against the involvement of any Shiite militia in the Mosul operation. It remains to be seen how seriously these warnings will be taken.

Meanwhile, soldiers that have been receiving training by the Turkish armed forces in the Bashika camp near Mosul would most probably be included in the operation against Iraq’s second biggest city, which will end the controversy between Ankara and Baghdad.

The Turkish soldiers’ presence in Iraq had prompted a row between the two neighboring countries last December. The additional deployment of Turkish troops to the Bashika camp in response to the increasing ISIL threat had met a harsh reaction from Iraq’s central government. 

Turkish officials believe Russia was behind that crisis, as they think Moscow has been pushing the Iraqi government to create a strain in bilateral ties.

Iran is one of the few neighboring countries with which Turkey has so far avoided direct confrontation. At a time when Turkey has more foes than friends, it would be wise for the government to carefully manage its problematic relations with Iran, which requires a recalibration of Ankara’s ties with the Saudis.