Turkey, silent but active against ISIL threat

Turkey, silent but active against ISIL threat

Following decisive pressure from inside Iraq and the international community, Iraq’s defiant Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced his resignation from office to allow another Shiite politician, Haider al-Abadi, to form a new government. Al-Maliki’s withdrawal from the government will surely help Iraq restore relative stability that will enable the country to more efficiently fight against the extremist jihadist group that currently occupies one third of Iraqi territory.

While, on the one hand, the new government will aim to bring developments in the field under control, it will, on the other hand, effect a better functioning international cooperation to deal with both the growing humanitarian crisis in the north and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The foreign ministers of European Union countries came together in Brussels on Aug. 15 to seek ways to help the Iraqi central government and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), with France, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurds’ peshmerga forces. Some EU countries promised to provide humanitarian aid or to increase the amount of assistance they were already providing.

The EU’s move followed the United States’ limited airstrikes against ISIL last week, but also followed the growing humanitarian tragedy in Iraq that has caused more than one-and-half-million Iraqis to flee ISIL violence.

The current picture suggests three-fold international support to Iraq:

- The American strike against ISIL targets and efforts to get more field intelligence constitute the operational leg of this support. It will be no surprise to see more such attacks against ISIL in the coming days, in line with developments. Although the primary objective was to keep ISIL away from the rich oil and natural gas reserves of the north and to stop a potential massacre of Christian and Yazidi groups, it also helped Iraqi Kurdish groups to re-gain the positions they lost against ISIL.

- Political and logistical support to Iraqi Kurds is equally important. The KRG has proven itself as a reliable partner of the West, so there is no hesitancy in arming peshmerga groups. The international community’s pressure on al-Maliki shows the significance of the threat posed by the ISIL to Iraq and other regional countries. The international community will continue to beef up its endorsement of Iraq as a whole.

The unification of the Kurds in the region in response to the common threat of ISIL is another game-changing development that needs to be carefully analyzed. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), its affiliate in Syria, the (PYD), and the KRG combining forces to defend Kurds and other ethnic groups is regarded a positive development for the world.

- The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is getting more and more tragic every day. Turkmens, Yezidis and Christians have had to flee their homes in large numbers and are afraid to return. It may be well said that the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is well observed by the world and necessary measures could be taken before it’s too late. It should be noted that Turkey’s immediate response to the humanitarian crisis was very effective and helped the world realize the situation as well.

A number of countries, including the United Kingdom, the U.S., France, Germany, etc., are in constant talks with Turkey’s disaster agency (AFAD), the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, to coordinate the transport of their humanitarian assistance through Turkey. AFAD’s experience in carrying assistance and Turkey’s geographical proximity put Turkey as a facilitator in transporting aid to the Iraqis.

Turkey’s position 

The international mobilization in the face of threat posed by the ISIL is regarded as a positive move and welcomed by Turkey. Turkey’s current position can be evaluated under certain points:

- Turkey will continue its humanitarian assistance campaign toward Turkmens, Kurds, Yazidi and other groups in Iraq. It will also increase its level of cooperation with international agencies and other countries to this end. Its decision to build camps inside Iraq is seen as a sort of lesson drawn from the Syrian situation, as Turkey now hosts more than 1,300,000 Syrians.

- Turkey will not undertake a military operation in Iraq, although it has already boosted its border security to stop the infiltration of foreign fighters. Given the fact that 49 of its citizens, including its consul-general in Mosul, have been in the hands of ISIL since June 11, any Turkish reaction against this jihadist group will be a calculated one.

- However, it has been recently observed that we are hearing more blunt statements from Turkish officials in denouncing ISIL’s offensive. First, Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroğlu warned ISIL “not to test Turkey’s patience,” after the group threatened Turkey with cutting off the flow of the Euphrates River, drying up northern Syria. “Turkey is a country that does not surrender to such threats,” Eroğlu said. “Consequently, ISIL shouldn’t bluff about threats. We have patience only up to a certain point.”

Meanwhile, İbrahim Kalın, foreign policy advisor to President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, condemned ISIL terrorism in a recent interview with the NTV, describing the group as “the ISIL trouble.”

Turkey sees ISIL as a well-organized group led intelligently, and therefore does not underestimate the threat it poses. This obliges Turkey to be careful in its language and sometimes be silent, but that does not mean it is not active, as confirmed by Turkish officials.