Turkish forces, peshmerga defend camp against ISIL
Tolga Tanış – BASHIQATurkish security forces and Iraqi peshmerga are collectively defending the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq at the positions formed to defend the camp and the region from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Bashiqa camp became a source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad at the end of 2015 when Turkey sent extra troops and artillery to the region to reinforce its security there. Turkish forces have been in the region since early 2015, ostensibly to train a Sunni Iraqi militia from the Mosul region to fight ISIL.
Following strong reactions both from the United States and Iraq at the end of 2015, Turkey was forced to pull out a significant number of its troops and tanks from the camp, which was targeted by ISIL four times.
The camp is located on the side of a hill that neighbors ISIL forces.
There is also a zone which is defended by the Sunni Iraqi militia that is being trained by Turkish forces. These militias stand guard at the entrance to the camp and at the watchtowers around the camp.
Turkish troops have avoided threats from inside or around the camp itself; instead, the real threat to Turkish soldiers is at the peshmerga positions which border ISIL forces. Turkish forces also fight at these peshmerga positions together with peshmerga forces.
According to peshmerga sources, these positions were the places where a Turkish soldier was killed on March 26 during a gun battle between ISIL militants and peshmerga forces, while a Turkish tank has also been targeted in recent months by ISIL forces.
In the first such attack by ISIL, four soldiers were wounded while 18 ISIL militants were killed in return shelling. Turkish forces have been targeted by ISIL in the region on multiple occasions.
Turkey said activity by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region was one of the reasons for its reinforcement of forces at the camp, but peshmerga forces said there were no PKK militants in the area and that they would not let them enter.
Sources said there were two different peshmerga groups in the region: one branch of the peshmerga are loyal to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, while the other is led by former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
These two fractions of peshmerga stand apart in Bashiqa due to the ongoing political crisis in the KRG. The leadership of the peshmerga in the region was given to Barzani’s peshmerga, but some positions have been left to Talabani’s peshmerga, and the two try not to interfere with each other.
The head of the peshmerga in Bashiqa, Gen. Berham Yasin, said they were ready to join an operation to take Mosul back from ISIL but added that the bargaining process was ongoing.
“We are ready. We even have an action plan. We will leave the positions and move forward around 10 kilometers during a siege, and we will surround Mosul’s north,” said Yasin at one of the peshmerga positions in Bashiqa, adding that this would only happen if there is an agreement.
“We have two clauses. Around 30 percent of Mosul is Kurdish. If they supply us with heavy weapons and recognize our right in Mosul’s administration, then we will join the operation,” he added.
Mosul has been under ISIL rule since June 2014, when jihadists overran the area. The Bashiqa camp is located close to Mosul.