Turkey, a victim of Erdoğan’s inflammatory rhetoric

Turkey, a victim of Erdoğan’s inflammatory rhetoric

“Ten years ago, the Americans helped Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province west of Baghdad form the ‘Awakening’ movement to defeat a previous incarnation of violent fundamentalist Islam - al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“After U.S. troops mostly left Iraq, it was the failure of the [former Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki government to continue supporting the Awakening which helped the self-styled Islamic State move in and occupy key cities like Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit... and Mosul.”

Who wrote this? Not me. It was Hugh Sykes from BBC Radio 4.

“At the time, administration officials, including President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, openly blamed Mr. Maliki for the rise in Iraq of the Islamic State. 

“Mr. al-Maliki’s aggressively pro-Shiite policies had alienated the minority Iraqi Sunni population and created fertile ground for the extremists to flourish.”

Who wrote this? Not me. It was the Washington Times, in an article dated July 15, 2015.

I vividly recall Turkey’s objection to al-Maliki. Ankara warned the U.S. about al-Maliki’s divisive sectarian policies a thousand times. Those with a short memory may have forgotten the exchange of verbal blasts between Erdoğan and al-Maliki. 

It took eight years - the rise of ISIL and the fall of Mosul to it – for the U.S. to be finally be convinced to force al-Maliki out of power in 2014. 

Looking back at the bitter exchanges between Erdoğan and al-Maliki, who both accused each other of fomenting sectarianism, who should feel vindicated today? You may hate to say it, but it is Erdoğan.
Some of the foreign policy stances endorsed by Turkey do have a rationale. But when they are explained by Erdoğan, they lose all common sense.

The reason why I quoted foreign media to recall the spat between Erdoğan and Iraq’s former leader is simple: Erdoğan-bashing by any journalist is read with enthusiasm. But when you start saying, “what Erdoğan says might be right, but the way he says it isn’t right,” you risk being marked as a journalist who doesn’t dare contradict “Erdoğan the authoritarian.”

But let’s face it, many preferred to interpret Erdoğan’s outbursts against al-Maliki as yet more manifestations of his authoritarianism, tainted by Sunni Islam and Neo Ottomanism, rather than as justified criticism of al-Maliki’s policies.

The same thing is happening today. But Erdoğan’s outbursts should be read as warnings about the aftermath of the Mosul operation. If Shiites and Kurds are seen by the Sunni population as liberating Mosul from ISIL, to what degree will they embrace the newcomers? The support of the local population is extremely critical, especially considering the fact that it is predicted that ISIL’s fighters will shave their beards, shed their uniforms and melt among the locals. 

Do we have the luxury of seeing the same mistakes repeated in Iraq, if the aftermath of the Mosul operation is not carefully planned? 

According to The Economist, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi wants to restrict the role of Kurdish and Shiite forces. Look at what The Economist also wrote:

“The Iraqi army’s preferred backups are two Sunni irregular forces. Sadly, both are fierce rivals. The first is led by Atheel al-Nujaifi, Mosul’s former governor ... [His] 5,000 armed men are trained by the Turks. The second group comes from south of Mosul and is drawn largely from the Jabouri tribe. It works closely with Mr. Abadi’s lot and has contrived to replace Mr. Nujaifi as Mosul’s governor.”

Could the rivalry between the Jabouri and al-Nujaifi be the reason behind al-Abadi’s objection to the Turkish presence in Bashiqa. By targeting Turkey, is al-Abadi trying to weaken al-Nujaifi and thus secure the loyalty of the Jabouri? 

If this is indeed the case, is yelling “Turkey will never leave Bashiqa” the right way to handle the issue, as Erdoğan has been doing?

“We will take our place in the Mosul operation,” he has been vowing for some time. 

Hearing that, you might think that Turkey wants to put its boots on the ground in Mosul. But I am not convinced this is the case. Turkey simply wants the Sunni forces it has trained in Bashiqa to be present in the operation. 

In the end, that is exactly what happened. So perhaps yelling did yield some results. But those results came at the expense of sounding wrong when you are right.

"ISIL’s removal from Mosul will no doubt bring cheers. But without a deal securing agreement between the many parties with an interest in Mosul’s future, the danger is that the conclusion of one battle will merely sound the bugle for the next."

Who says it? Again, not me but The Economist.