The Mosul operation has started, while a symbolic opening kickoff will be conducted in the coming days. I will try to convey the parameters of the Mosul operation, within the context of its effects on Turkey. Mosul has been in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since June 2014.
- The hottest dimension of the operation for Ankara is the presence of Turkish troops around Bashiqa, which is 20 kilometers east of Mosul. I was near the Gedu Base on June 30. The camp is about five kilometers behind the front that overlooks the Bashiqa village, held by ISIL, from a hilltop. It is at no risk of seeing clashes, but it has such a strategic position that Iraq would want to use it during its siege of Mosul.
- The Peshmarga is at the front. Normally, it is outside the control of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Administration, but it is now a de facto Kurdish zone. Turkey first justified its presence in the region on the invitation of the Baghdad administration. As a matter of fact, Khaled al-Obaidi, the defense minister of Iraq at that time, paid a visit to the camp in November, the same year when Turkey first deployed troops at the beginning of 2015. However, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane and fell out of the game in Syria, Ankara re-remembered Bashiqa and reinforced it. And all of a sudden, it found itself isolated both due to Russian diplomacy and Iran’s attack. Everybody objected. The U.S. also called on Turkey to withdraw.
- They could not believe it. But, when Shiite politician Nouri al-Maliki’s men toppled the Sunni al-Obaidi in a vote in the Iraqi Parliament, the seriousness of the situation was understood. This was important because al-Obaidi was the closest name to Turkey in Baghdad.
- When al-Obaidi left, this time Ankara justified its presence in Bashiqa on the Iraq Kurdish Administration’s invitation. However, President Massoud Barzani also could not meet this expectation even though he is under Turkey’s influence.
- Turkey will not be a part of this siege. It is not even certain if the Hashd al-Watani, the Sunni militia power of the Atheel al-Nujaifi Turkey trained in Gedu, made up of 2,000 to 3,000 men, will be included. Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, said on Friday that they were prepared to incorporate those fighters into the operation under the Iraqi command, but later he said details were not clear.
- It is definite, though, that the Shiite militia power Hashd al-Shaabi will take part in the siege. However, the Americans are determined to see that the Shiites do not enter the city where more than 1 million people live and the Sunnis are the majority. The American spokesman of the Operation Inherent Resolve said, “We do not synchronize the operation with them,” warning that they may shoot them by mistake. The Shiites also would not want to be shot by mistake.
- Some 12 brigades each ranging from 800 to 1,600 men will take part in the operation. Two of them will be Peshmarga. The Peshmarga will not proceed, they will only protect the line. They will assume the control of the population fleeing Mosul and their resettlement. McGurk said they were ready for 750,000 internally displaced people (IDP). However, the sources I spoke to told me that tents for only 200,000 people were ready around Mosul.
- There is also the PKK issue. The PKK is present 150 kilometers west of Mosul, at Sinjar and 100 kilometers south of Mosul, at Mahmur. Its name in Sinjar is the Sinjar Protection Units. This is a 1,500-2,000-person force and they are paid by Baghdad as a militia power. It is a red line for Turkey that they take part in the Mosul operation. As a matter of fact, as columnist Murat Yetkin wrote, the U.S. assured Turkey that there would be no units which are affiliated to the PKK in the operation.
- What will happen next? The Atheel al-Nujaifi Turkey is arguing that Mosul should be autonomous. However, McGurk said that after the city is liberated, its governor will be the enemy of al-Nujaifi, Nofal Agoob. Mosul will be under Baghdad. “It will have eight districts and one Kurdish deputy governor assigned by Barzani.”
- For the Shiites who will not be able to enter Mosul, the priority after the operation will be Tal Afar where ISIL staged a major massacre of Shiites. They want revenge. The city where Shiite Turkmens reside is the second red line of Turkey. If Shiites enter Tal Afar, there may be a huge risk of a clash.
- In the siege that will last until mid-2017, Turkey will be able to monitor what will go on from Bashiqa. In the event that plans do not work out and, given the likelihood that resistance in Mosul will increase, then new calculations will be made. We will see whether Turkey will be the side to be blamed because of this resistance or the side asked to intervene to solve the deadlock.