Sectarian radicalism threatens the Middle East

Sectarian radicalism threatens the Middle East

Ankara’s fears have become true, and the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul was raided by invading militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) on June 11. The fate of 48 consulate personnel, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, was not exactly known as the Hürriyet Daily News was going to press.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan called an emergency meeting with his deputy (in charge of the security-related matters and the Kurdish problem), Beşir Atalay, as well as the head of the Turkish intelligence organization (MİT), Hakan Fidan. President Abdullah Gül called Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru to Çankaya Palace for an update, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Ankara was all ears for any news from the region. Apparently, the consul general had attempted to evacuate the building and transfer everyone insider to Turkey, or at least to the Kurdish region as a relatively safer place. However, he was unable to start the operation due to the quick advance of the ISIL forces.

Almost an hour before the news hit the wires, President Gül was answering reporters’ questions, saying the capture of Mosul a day before was a result of the power vacuum in the region, implying that the lack of political authority across both civil war-hit Syria and Iraq was leading to sectarian and ethnic rifts following the U.S.-led occupation of the latter.

The advance of ISIL continued yesterday with the targeting of a number of cities including Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. ISIL, which seeks an Islamic state based on orthodox Sunni sharia rule, has made it clear that its immediate targets are the Shiite Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad and the Alawite (non-Sunni) Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus.(However, Turkish authorities claim that in Syria, ISIL does not attack al-Assad’s forces as much as it attacks opposition forces. But they still have the important city of Rakka in their hands and are also advancing on Aleppo.)

Having a pious Sunni prime minister and president ruling Turkey will not stop the sectarian radicalism of ISIL and similar groups attacking Turkish targets, too. As we have seen, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabbab have attacked the Turkish embassy and the Turkish Airlines office in Somalia, and now ISIL has attacked the Mosul consulate building in Iraq.

There are not many Shiites living in Turkey, but there is a danger that such radical bigotry could consider Alevis in Turkey to be a target. There are nearly a million Syrian refugees in Turkey and it is possible that some of them could be linked to ISIL or al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Kurds, most of whom are Sunni, could also become ISIL targets. That is the reason why the Baghdad and Arbil governments, which have drifted apart of late because of oil disputes, started to talk about a joint struggle against ISIL yesterday. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces in Iraq have also offered to join forces with the Kurdish federal government there.

Turkish President Gül had warned last year about the threat of the “darkness of the Middle Ages” in the Islamic world because of sectarian differences. Now, this is on the Turkish border. The government should be doubly careful not to let the sectarian fight be added to the existing security problems in Turkey.