Only ISIL wins in Turkey’s crises with Russia and Iraq

Only ISIL wins in Turkey’s crises with Russia and Iraq

The pace of developments in our neighborhood is so fast and intense that neither diplomats nor academics and journalists can spare additional time to analyze individual incidents or make good assessments before establishing sound policies and reporting about them. While the ongoing Russian-Turkish tension is still piping hot, a fresh crisis between Turkey and Iraq over the deployment of Turkish troops near Mosul without Baghdad’s consent has knocked on our doors.

Turkey explained that its efforts to train Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces has been ongoing for more than one year and within the knowledge of the central administration, but guaranteed that it respected the territorial integrity and sovereign rights of Iraq by holding back around 350 commandos near Mosul for the protection of its military training personnel. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi however seems to want to make this a big international problem so he can heal his wounded global image and consolidate his power inside Iraq. 

As a matter of fact, the Iraqi prime minister cannot control Iraq’s territory as a whole and his defeat against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul in the summer of 2014 paved the way for the extremist jihadists to expand their area of influence in mostly Sunni areas of central Iraq and Syria. 

The Iraqi army under al-Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, had turned into a Shiite force and it was only after the Mosul defeat that he realized how wrongful his plan to isolate Sunni generals and officers from high-ranking positions was. There are now great efforts to restructure the Iraqi army and to make it a military force consisting of all ethnic and sectarian groups so that it can fight for a united Iraq. 

In northern Iraq, things have always been different. Iraqi Kurdish groups have always had their own armed groups to defend themselves against Baghdad and other regional powers and nowadays they are in a fight against ISIL. Turkey’s military relationship with the Iraqi Kurds has a nearly two-decade-old background. 

Turkey had deployed troops to northern Iraq first to monitor a peace deal between two powerful Kurdish factions under Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani leadership in the mid-1990s. This military presence later changed its mandate and began collecting intelligence about the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose headquarters is located at Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq. Although the number of troops and mechanized units has changed over time, the Turkish army had around 1,000 military personnel in the region. 

Of course every single development in this neighborhood is interconnected and creates a very good condition for proxy wars. This crisis between Turkey and Iraq is a very good example of it. 

Apart from Iraq, it was Russia and Iraq who voiced their criticisms of the Turkish move, making clear that it was a breach of international law. In return, Turkey received good support from Barzani, who is due in Ankara for talks, while the Iraqi defense minister’s pre-scheduled visit to Turkey seems unlikely. 

Looking at from a wider perspective without giving much importance to details, the only actor which gains out of such a crisis is ISIL itself. The Russian-Turkish crisis seemingly delayed a joint Turkish-American operation in northern Syria to push ISIL back from the border and the Iraqi-Turkish crisis will allow ISIL to buy more time for its Mosul defense. All regional actors and world powers should better realize this and focus on the anti-ISIL fight.