Ankara’s to-do list
It has already become certain that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) invasion of Mosul will pass into history as the “pre-Mosul and post-Mosul era.” The post-Mosul order turns the regional balance of power upside down. Hence, Turkey has to make a completely new reading of the region and adapt its policies accordingly.
Let’s start with the winners of the new equation. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has survived through the civil war in his country by depending on ISIL. The Syrian regime has provided it with absolute liberty so that it can fight against the Syrian opposition forces. In other words, al-Assad has indirectly cooperated with the organization. In addition, he presented himself to the West as the only element of stability and security in Syria against ISIL.
Under the current circumstances, the West, pioneered by the U.S. will embrace al-Assad stronger as a life buoy. Hence, he has secured his place even more. On top of this, his only allies in the region, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, are now cooperating against ISIL, which might also target al-Assad at any moment. This will make him join their camp sooner or later.
This would also put Turkey and the West on the same front with al-Assad as they are all now supporting al-Maliki against ISIL. Therefore, Ankara will have to radically change its Syria policy, which has up to now been based on confronting al-Assad.
The Kurds are the other winners of the new order, not only in Iraq, but also in the region. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offered help to Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to confront ISIL. They had been at odds for long time. This development hints at rapprochement not only between Barzani and the PKK, but also between Barzani and northern Syrian Kurds, since Barzani had been excluding them together with Turkey. In light of the unification of the Kurds in the region, Ankara will have to fix its relations with northern Syria too.
The loser in this equation is definitely al-Maliki. Actually, it is sectarianism that has lost completely, so Turkey should not repeat its past mistakes that made it appear sectarian. Giving asylum to Iraq’s fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, supporting the Sunni bloc in Iraq’s 2010 elections, and personalizing the al-Assad confrontation have been some of these mistakes.
ISIL is the winner in the short-term. Ankara has been accused of supporting radical groups such as ISIL and al-Nusra from the very beginning, both inside and outside of the country. However, I tried to highlight the following distinction several times: It is true that Turkey has ignored the activities of al-Nusra by not putting enough effort to prevent the use of its territory as a logistical base for jihadists, in order to maintain its position against al-Assad. But one needs to distinguish between “not fighting against the group” and “supporting the group.”
Moreover, Ankara has always positioned itself against al-Qaeda and ISIL and has even accused the West of not having prevented the entry of the jihadists into Turkey. Furthermore, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not match up ideologically with these groups. Otherwise, ISIL would not have besieged the Tomb of Süleyman Şah, considered to be the only Turkish territory in Syria, and likewise would not have seized the Turkish consulate in Mosul.
This is why the Turkish government has to pursue a very delicate policy. Standing on the frontline in the front against ISIL is even more dangerous than getting identified with the group, especially these days when an international coalition against ISIL is emerging. It was only 10 years ago that al-Qaeda attacked the British consulate, an HSBC bank and two synagogues in Istanbul.