US assures Turkey of ‘no PKK affiliate’ in Mosul operation
Murat YetkinThe United States has assured Turkey that there will be no units which are affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the planned operation to take the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a high-ranking Turkish source confirmed to the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 7 amid rising tension between the Turkish and Iraqi governments.
It appears that the assurance was given to the Turks by an American delegation that carried out talks in Ankara on Sept. 27.
According to diplomatic sources, the planning of the Mosul operation, rather than Raqqa in Syria, was the main topic of talks between Turkish authorities and the Americans, including U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy in the fight against ISIL and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. That was a follow-up to the talks between Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in New York on Sept. 23.
Erdoğan told the press later on that he asked Biden to drop the PKK-affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG) as the ground force in Syria against ISIL, so Turkey will give full support to the rebel groups it backs for the operation to take Raqqa from ISIL.
The assurance has two separate meanings for Turkey. The first is physical. PKK is active north of Mosul and uses the region as a corridor between their military headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq and the YPG-controlled areas in Syria which they call “Rojava.” One of the two reasons why Turkey set up the Bashiqa camp near Mosul – at first with Iraqi consent – to train Sunni and Turkoman militia (mostly the Hashdi al-Vatani) was to establish another armed force against ISIL, the other was to stop the PKK from moving south toward Mosul. The second meaning for Turkey is political; it is an indirect acknowledgement confirming that the Americans knew very well that their collaboration with the YPG, the Syria branch of the PKK (which Turkey also lists as terrorist) is driving Turkey crazy.
In those talks, the Americans asked whether it was possible to “integrate” the Sunni and Turkoman militia who have been receiving military training from Turkish Special Forces at Bashiqa with the CENTCOM coordination under the U.S.-led coalition.
The issues were first discussed later in the day in a security meeting chaired by President Erdoğan and attended by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who were in the talks with the U.S. delegation. The Mosul operation was on the agenda of the National Security Board (MGK) meeting on Sept. 28 as well. Before that meeting, Çavuşoğlu met with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, in Ankara and talked about the Iraqi and Syrian situations in detail.
“We have no objection to that integration,” the high-ranking Turkish source said when explaining Ankara’s position on Oct. 7. “We told that to the Americans. But as you know, we have other problems now.”
The problems that the Turkish official was referring to started when Ibrahim Alawi, the Iraqi ambassador to Ankara, said Turkey should leave the Bashiqa camp immediately, after the Turks let the Americans know about their consent to integrate the Bashiqa-trained militia into those set to march on Mosul.
As Turkey protested Alawi, a stronger statement came from Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who asked Turkey to stop violating the territorial rights of Iraq. Al-Abadi also applied to the United Nations over the Turkish presence in Iraq. That was taken as a bitter joke by Ankara, given that Turkey has been fighting with the PKK based in Iraq for more nearly three decades, while almost a third of Iraq’s territory is under ISIL control. Things got more complicated when a CENTCOM spokesman said Turkey should get Iraqi permission to make its presence legal.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım slammed the Iraqi government and said Turkey would not evacuate Bashiqa. That was not a move quite in international law, but almost everything happening in Iraq and Syria were like that, too. Çavuşoğlu asked al-Abadi to stop using this delicate matter for his domestic political consumption, saying Turkey had no eye on Iraqi soil.
“Al-Abadi’s remarks are not in line with the realities on the ground,” the Turkish source said. “There is a propaganda about Turkish intentions to take the opportunity to take Mosul. At first, we have no such intention. Second, our presence in Bashiqa is only limited to raining and the protection of the camp itself. Iraqis know that, Americans know that, everybody knows that. Al-Abadi is playing for the applause of the audience.”
And according to diplomatic sources in Ankara, the audience is in Tehran. But what about the talks with Zarif? Ankara thinks the influence of Zarif or President Hassan Rouhani’s influence on the Revolutionary Guards and the Shiite militia fighting on behalf of Syria and Iraq regimes are not as strong as that of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
Americans, on the other hand, think that if they let Shiite militia go into Sunni-populated Mosul, it could trigger new and perhaps more complicated problems of sectarian origin, with the possibility of empowering ISIL, instead of defeating it.
All those factors are likely to risk the plans of the U.S. administration to take Mosul from ISIL before the presidential elections on Nov. 8.
And the issue of Turkish participation in the Mosul operation is not clear at present.