‘US was informed about Turkey’s deployment in Iraq’
First, Turkey sent troops to a military camp in northern Iraq. Baghdad objected. Then, Turkey moved some of them to another base nearby. Yet it didn’t suffice. Baghdad asked Ankara to withdraw completely. More surprisingly, the U.S. called on Turkey to pull any unauthorized military forces. Last but not least, on the very same day, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked the camp in question.
What is happening? Where are the withdrawn Turkish soldiers now? And was the U.S. uninformed about Turkey’s military deployment?
First of all, will Turkey now pull back all of its military personnel in Iraq? The reply of my security sources in Ankara is crystal clear: “No, we won’t.”
Ankara emphasizes that the presence of the Turkish military in Iraq does not violate the country’s sovereignty since the camp in question (Bashiqa) had been built with the consent of Baghdad. “Why should we withdraw all of our troops just for having deployed 300 soldiers in that camp?” This is the question widely asked in Ankara, given that northern Iraq hosts about 2,000 Turkish soldiers at the moment.
Moreover, further withdrawal has become even more impossible following ISIL’s attack on the camp Dec. 16 since the security threat towards Turkish soldiers has peaked now.
This is exactly why, Ankara argues, it decided to increase its military personnel in the camp from 300 to 800. Accordingly the threat posed by ISIL towards the Turkish military based in that region has recently risen significantly. It is noteworthy that yesterday the Pentagon declared the latest attack as “ISIL’s most serious assault in northern Iraq in the past five months.”
My security sources also deny the claim that the troops were deployed with the aim to protect a dam in Mosul that has recently been under ISIL threat.
Yet why has the security threat peaked now? There are two main reasons. Following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet on November 24, the security threat posed by Russia has increased seriously. My source told me that Russia means to take revenge on Turkey in an indirect way and that they have received “serious intelligence” that the Russian threat towards Turkish troops in that region has increased.
The second reason is that before November 24, Turkey had recently increased its airstrikes against ISIL in Syria. Furthermore, the joint operation that it was going to conduct together with the U.S. along Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey would happen in only a matter of time. In addition, Ankara has strengthened measures to control its southern border. All this has made ISIL more alarming for Turkish soldiers in the region.
Then is Turkey planning to build up a permanent military base in Mosul? My source replies that the Bashiqa camp has existed there for a long while for the military training of the Peshmerga forces and will remain.
With regard to the pull-back of military personnel from the camp, Ankara emphasizes that it is not a “withdrawal,” only a “change of location.” Accordingly, in order to call it a “withdrawal,” the troops would need to return to their “place of origin” (in this case, Turkey).
According to my source, 100 soldiers have been moved from the Bashiqa camp to a base in Duhok (a province in northern Iraq) named Bamerni. He also adds that the number of the military personnel in Bashiqa is now higher than its previous level, i.e. before the procurement.
Initially, Turkey was planning to send over 40 tanks. Yet only 18 of them were able to arrive at the camp due to Baghdad’s objection. Twenty-two tanks are still waiting at the border.
And here is the question which puzzles us the most: Was the U.S. uninformed about the deployment?
My source underlines that the U.S. was informed about this recruitment in compliance with the mutual military coordination. “Moreover it is impossible to transfer a big military convoy composed of 60-70 vehicles across the border without the U.S. noticing,” he adds. Yet, he says, this move has not been conducted in coordination with the U.S. or in any connection with the anti-ISIL coalition.
An important Turkish official has confirmed this claim by saying “all relevant countries” were informed about the deployment of the troops. This picture indicates that Washington might have taken its supportive stance for Baghdad in an attempt to protect its relations with the Iraqi government.
It has been widely expected for the last 12 months that the U.S. would conduct an operation on Mosul, ISIL’s main base in Iraq. The recent deployment of the Turkish troops has reawakened these speculations. Yet Ankara does not expect any operation in the near future. Moreover, it seems to be out of the question that Turkish soldiers would join such an operation at this stage.
Last but not least, the official I spoke to underlines that any steps to be taken in the future will be implemented in coordination with Baghdad and their contact with the Iraqi government does continue.
He concludes by saying Ankara wants to solve this issue within their bilateral relations based on friendship, rather than within the framework of the U.N. Security Council, which Baghdad officially complained to.