Questions on ‘Islamic State’ and Mosul captives
Turkey is entering a critical week regarding the direction of its near future.
A week from today, on Aug. 11, it will be clear if Turkey elected its 12th president in the first round on Aug. 10.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems pretty sure about a victory. His supporters are attacking their opponents on social media and mocking them as “losers.” It is an exemplary contradiction for Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) that came into power with the rhetoric of being the voice of “the losers” against “the winners” of the secular establishment.
If elected next week, being a super-charged (with a 50 percent plus vote, more than his own government) as the “president elect,” Erdoğan might take critical steps until he officially takes the chair from incumbent President Abdullah Gül on Aug. 28, as a preparation for the “New Turkey” he desires.
Apart from the cleansing operation against Gülenists in the government and judiciary system, Erdoğan gives utmost importance to restructuring the military according to his needs.
The Supreme Military Board (YAŞ) meetings scheduled to start today, Aug. 4, take place at a critical time in that regard.
There are a series of important topics on the political-military agenda, such as the following:
1- The new threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or shortly, the Islamic State (IS), is getting bigger with new advances now on the Kurdish frontier. The IS is still holding 49 Turkish captives, including the Turkish Consul General, taken captive June 13. Iraqi Turkmens complain they cannot attract the necessary care from Ankara. Yet, no political directive from the Erdoğan government to the military is of public knowledge.
2- The IS threat affects Turkey’s Kurdish dialogue process badly, too. As a result of IS’s pressure on the Kurdish liberated zone “Rojava” in Syria, the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have engaged in clashes with the Turkish military on the border last week, the first time in two years since Erdoğan initiated a proxy dialogue with the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan through National Intelligence (MİT).
3- There are uncertainties regarding the future of the Kurdish dialogue, which is still considered by government directives to the military as the number one threat to security. Dengir Fırat, the former number two of Erdoğan’s AK Parti, who resigned last week, claims Erdoğan could release Öcalan in the framework of declaring amnesty to military officers who were given heavy jail terms in cases like Ergenekon and Balyoz. Erdoğan claims the cases are understood to be a plot by Gülenists, the supporters of his former close ally Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar who lives in the U.S.
4- Erdoğan asked Chief of Staff General Necdet Özel for a cleansing of Gülenists in the army, similar to the one going on in civil service. The soldiers think it was the Gülenists who set them up, but with the green light from Erdoğan’s government. There are mixed feelings there.
5- And in the middle of all those topics, the Turkish Armed Forces are undergoing one of the largest restructuring efforts in the last decades. The existing four land force armies will merge into two, for a smaller, but more effective Turkish army according to NATO needs. But it could mean additions on the officers’ shoulders who are already influenced by the psyche of those ranking officers released in the Ergenekon or Balyoz cases, waiting to be back on duty.
Reports on Özel’s possible resignation under the circumstances before the critical YAŞ meetings have been denied by the National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz.
On the other hand, another statement from Yılmaz was denied by Foreign Ministry officials recently. That statement was about the possible release of Turkish captives by IS in a few days’ time, which added fuel to the fire of speculations among opposition circles that government has already made a deal with the Islamists for the release of captives in Mosul, before the first round of the presidential elections.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said it was actually Erdoğan himself who was taken captive by the ‘IS’ who turned Erdoğan into the “whipping boy of the Middle East;” he claimed Erdoğan has spent much of Turkey’s credit, evidenced by the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama no longer talks to him on the phone directly.
Under the current circumstances, there are three burning questions in Ankara:
1- Since the lives of the captives in Mosul are very dear to the country, will the ‘Islamic State’ release the Turkish captives?
2- If they do, when is the IS going to release them? Will that be before the voting on Aug. 10?
3- If they do, what would they expect from the Turkish government in return? It would be naive to expect ransom money from Turkey – like the Arab tribes expected in return of truck drivers held hostage – since the IS also seized Mosul’s oil and gas fields. Will there be a kind of political expectation from the Turkish government in return for the release of the captives in Mosul?
As major developments in the region unfold with possible outcomes of regime and border changes, those questions are on the immediate agenda of Erdoğan who is expected to become the first President elect of Turkey by next week.