Why is Erdogan pushing for a role in Mosul?

Why is Erdogan pushing for a role in Mosul?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan definitely wants Turkey to be part of the Mosul operation and has the support of nationalists and Islamists alike. For the former, this is a matter of national honor because they believe Mosul belongs to Turkey by birthright.

How they can delude themselves into thinking that Mosul will be handed over to Turkey or that Turkey will be the principal country determining the future of this city, if the Turkish military is part of this operation, is another question.

As for the Islamists, their position is articulated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He says the demography of the city should not be tampered with. This is another way of saying the city is predominantly Sunni and should remain so.

Talk by the government about protecting the rights of the Turkmen in Mosul also rings hollow. Which Turkmen are we talking about, Sunni or Shiite? Turkey is not known to have spoken up for Shiite Turkmen in the past, either in Iraq or Syria, only concentrating on the rights of those close to it, namely Sunni Turkmen. There is a reason why most Shiite Turkmen in Iraq have traditionally voted for Shiite parties, rather than for Sunni ones backed by Ankara. The Islamist positon on Mosul is nevertheless more credible given the understanding emerging internationally that Shiite militia supporting the Iraqi army should not be allowed to rampage through the city vindictively. 

But there are also Turks who are asking why Erdoğan is so keen on sending Turkish troops to Iraq, which they fear will drag the country into a bloody war that will also bring a serious risk of terrorist attacks in Turkey. 

A secondary role for Turkey on Mosul operation

For these Turks it is also evident that Turkey will only be allowed to play a secondary, role even if it is allowed to participate in this operation belatedly.

Judging by the latest reports, it appears some kind of a role will be allotted to the Turkish Armed Forces, provided talks between Ankara and Baghdad, which the U.S. seems to be guiding behind the scenes, result in agreement. 

What is unlikely to happen, however, is that this participation will give Ankara the important role it is expecting at the table. For that to happen, Erdoğan will have had to have been much more diplomatic in his outbursts. 

By raging at Baghdad, fuming at the U.S. and Europe and giving the impression that if only it were possible he would switch sides overnight to the Russian camp, he has seriously undermined Turkey’s diplomatic capacities. 

Erdoğan only has the Iraqi Kurds to lean on now, but how long that will last also remains a big question, especially when the greater aspirations of the Iraqi Kurds comes into better focus. 

It was not all that long ago, after all, that Turkey was blasting away at the Iraqi Kurdish leadership for tampering with the demography of oil rich Kirkuk, which Turkey says it also has a historic stake in. 

Domestic politics ahead of presidential referendum

No one talks about the fact that Kirkuk is in the hands of the Kurds today, but it is almost certain this will come up if and when the dust settles in Iraq, and Turkish nationalists start raving about Turkey’s rights over the city.

There remains one credible explanation as to why Erdoğan is so keen to be part of the Mosul operation under these circumstances. It’s all about domestic politics. Having gone out on a limb by banging his fist on the table and effectively saying, “Turkey will be part of this operation and at the table, whether they like it or not,” he needs a face-saving result to convince his supporters. 

Those supporters are ready to accept anything he gives, so even ultimately insignificant participation in the operation to liberate Mosul will be considered by them as a major success brought about by their great leader. 
A leader, that is, who hopes to change the constitution soon – “with the support of his people” – to become a president who is not encumbered by parliamentary or judiciary restrictions. 

It’s not that hard to see what’s going on.