US mediates to ease Iraqi-Turkish tension
Tolga TANIŞ / WASHINGTON
AFP photoThe United States is acting as a mediator to ease the tension between Turkey and Iraq, which erupted due to the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq ahead of a possible operation to take Mosul back from jihadists, a high-ranking U.S. State Department official has said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the U.S. official said they were trying to facilitate negotiations between Iraq and Turkey as it was the Iraqi government’s decision whether or not Turkey would play a role in the operation to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Turkey’s statements about participating in the Mosul operation are being taken seriously and we are concerned, the official told daily Hürriyet, adding that Turkey’s efforts would open the way to becoming a part of the anti-ISIL coalition.
Otherwise, any manner of unilateral action taken by Turkey will only make things more complicated, the source said.
The presence of Turkish troops in Iraq has resulted in diplomatic tension between Iraq and Turkey, with the Iraqi parliament sending a diplomatic note to Turkey’s ambassador on Oct. 4 that declared the troops’ presence there to be illegal, after which Turkey summoned Iraq’s ambassador in Ankara the following day.
The official said momentum was building for the Mosul operation. The coalition is also unified and strong on the matter, while everybody should demonstrate some flexibility, the source said.
Making a comparison between the liberation of Syria’s Manbij in August and the operation on Mosul, the source said the Mosul campaign would take longer than anticipated.
The siege against ISIL in Manbij, which is home to 70,000 to 80,000 people, was initially expected to last only a couple of weeks but it took three months to liberate the city, the official said.
For this reason, it is difficult to estimate the duration of the siege of Mosul, where more than 1 million people live, the source said, adding that the operation could last for months.
The source also said no one should attempt to link the operation with the Nov. 8 presidential elections.
Mosul will be a very complicated operation, the official said, adding that they assumed there were 3,500 to 5,000 ISIL fighters in the city who have been preparing for the coalition attack by digging ditches and placing explosives in certain places.
The Iraqi Army is the main component in the operation, the source said, adding that Shiites were the majority in the army but that there were also Sunnis.
The source said an army made up of mostly Shiites was ready to fight to save a city where the majority is Sunni and that even though the Shiites will experience casualties during the campaign, they were ready to leave the administration of the city to Sunnis.
This is the sacrifice of the Iraqi Shiites to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq, the source said.
The U.S. official said they wanted the militia trained by Turkey, the 1,000 to 2,000-strong force under Atheel al-Nujaifi, Mosul’s former governor, at the Bashiqa camp to participate in the operation under the command and control of the Iraqi Army.
The Iraqi government has contacted al-Nujaifi on the matter, but no adequate progress has been made yet, the source said, adding that if an agreement was reached, it needed to be clearly understood that the Hashd al-Watani, which is also connected to Turkey at Bashiqa, would be totally under the command of the Iraqi Army.
The official added that Kurdish Peshmarga forces and the Shiite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, which will participate in the Mosul siege, will not enter the city.
The war inside the city will be conducted by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi anti-terror units, but following the liberation of the city, federal police and a 15,000-person force made up of local Sunni recruits under the Popular Mobilization Forces will control the city, the source said.
Baghdad has allocated a budget for the force to consist of local tribes, the official said, adding that there were 6,000 people ready and another 6,000 people being scanned.
The remaining members have not yet been determined, but it is possible that al-Nujaifi’s militia will participate in the force, although such an agreement has yet to be reached, the source said.
After Mosul is liberated, the local population who have and will leave the city during clashes will return, meaning Mosul’s demography will not change, the source said. The official gave the examples of Ramadi, Tikrit and Fallujah after their liberation, where locals who fled their cities returned to their hometowns.
Mosul will later be divided into eight districts, with an administrator to be determined for each district.
The governor will be Nofal Agoob, the source said, adding that Baghdad and the Kurdish administration in Arbil will subsequently appoint a deputy governor.
Stating that they were aware of objections to the former governor, al-Nujaifi, the source said there was a governor at present and that they could not prolong ISIL’s reign in the city by debating who should be governor.
The source also said they considered the Kurdish units known as the Shingal Resistance Protection Units to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The U.S. official said that even if they considered the YPG in Syria different than the PKK, the situation in Iraq was different because the PKK was a terrorist group. The source said they did not work with Kurdish groups in Sinjar and it was not possible for these units to take part in the Mosul operation.
Similarly, there are groups within the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is not a monolithic structure, that we do not work with, the source said. Under this umbrella there are sectarian groups associated with Iran, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH) and Kataib Hizbullah (KH), with whom Washington will not work.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the Hashd al-Shaabi is under the control of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the source added.
The official also said they would monitor the situation in Tal Afar during the Mosul operation and did not want ISIL fighters to escape to Tal Afar during the Mosul siege.
We have to take measures against this, the source said, adding that they understood Turkey’s sensitivity about Tal Afar because of Turkmens, while noting that there was a significant Shiite population in Tal Afar that included the Turkmens.
Turkey should understand Iraq’s demography, the source said.