Tuesday, January 24, 2017

While many of us on this side of the pond have either been crying and complaining, or celebrating and enthusiastic due to the election of Donald Trump, there's one thing we can all count on – the lack of mainstream media coverage on what is happening in Libya, Yemen and Iraq. I would add Syria, but the mere mention of Aleppo given the incessant repetition it is written and orally stated daily, may make me want to throw-up. 

It seems that the Iraqi security forces, elements of the Iranian Republican Guard, Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga, after more than three months, have ISIS jihadist on the ropes and are finally entering Eastern Mosul, closing in on ISIL/ISIS last positions. To be succinct, the battle has been more of an effort and struggle than the Obama Administration said it would be since the Mosul offensive began October 17. At one point the United Nations had reported that more than 2,000 Iraqi troops had been killed by November (a figure disputed by the Iraqi government and Iraq Joint Operation Command). According to the UN, this includes the army, police, Kurdish Peshmerga, interior ministry forces and pro-government paramilitaries.

At that time, it was reported that Iraqi troops had been the target of 630 suicide car bomb attacks in the first 45 days of the operation alone. The last report of US troop deaths was in November with 16 killed and 27 wounded. Although during that period the US Department of Defense only admitted to there being just a single casualty. Needless to say, both have ended reporting on military causalities as a result of the Mosul offensive.

It is hard to fathom that the Obama administration or the Pentagon did not conceive that recapturing Mosul would not be an easy task in particular given waiting more than two years of ISIL rule to do so and offering advanced notice of the operation. With the unexpected difficulty of uprooting ISIL/ISIS/Daesh fighters, and the more than anticipated length of time it has consumed thus far to do such, another problem has arisen that was not projected – a riff developing between Iraq and Turkey.

The Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi is firmly and openly demanding that Turkish forces leave Bashiqa camp near Mosul. Turkey on the other hand has stated that they will not withdraw its troops from its Bashiqa military camp in northern Iraq until the Mosul offensive against ISIL/ISIS/Daesh is complete. To make their intentions even more clear, Turkey's defense minister Fikri Isik, in November said that their military participation was part of its groundwork for other and more "important developments in the region." This is a moot point for the Iraqi PM who indicated that any efforts of diplomacy with Turkey could "not move forward one step" unless all Turkish forces in northern Iraq withdrew.

I am not certain but it would not surprise me that if Turkey, after the attempted Coup and still in the process of culling members of the military andgovernment, was really interested in preventing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) from establishing a solid link in the region in which they already have large population of Kurds in Turkey and Iraq. Erdogan May also be concerned that this might result in to a stronger diplomatic relationship with the PKK and Iraqi Shia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).  This is something he cannot allow.  

The Kurdistan Workers' Party is based in Turkey and Iraq. Since 1984 the PKK has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state for equal rights and self-determination for the purpose of forming their own independent nation state. From this point of view, if I were Erdogan, this would be a tactic that could be employed to prevent the PKK elements from gaining a foot print in Tal Afar, an invalid fear according to according to the Iraqi’s since they have guaranteed that PMF fighters will not get involved in the Mosul and Tel Afar campaigns.

Tel Afar, is a city and district in the Nineveh Governorate of northwestern Iraq. The leadership in Baghdad has vowed to defeat all “foreign troops” in and around Sinjar, PKK and ISIL included. However, a senior representative of one of the many the Shia militias fighting ISIL in concert with the Iraqi government has warned that they are willing to use force against Turkish troops in Nineveh if the Turkish government refuses to withdraw from the area. Jawadal-Tleibawi, a high-ranking leader of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia said in press statements said that if diplomacy fail, his fighters are “capable of forcing out the Turkish occupiers” and called the actions of Ankara as “a flagrant intervention in Iraq’s domestic affairs”.

Baghdad has described Turkish military presence in Iraq as a violation of its sovereignty, yet both openly indicate they a committed to meeting in the future to discuss a yet to come withdrawal plan pertaining to Turkish troops in the country. Although Turkey has retained the importance of their troop deployment in the area, they equally prioritize both the importance of training local militias to combat Islamic State militants and reducing the influence of Kurdish PKK militia operating in Iraq. Moreover, Ankara is openly precarious of al-Hashd al-Shaabi’s involvement in Mosul battles, worrying that the predominantly-Shia forces could commit human rights violations against Sunni inhabitants (a concern that has been documented by Amnesty International and Human RightsWatch).

What has been made clear by Baghdad is that the Bashiqa camp is an Iraqi camp has to and will be run and controlled by Iraqi administrative authorities. However a recent visit by a visit to meet Turkish troops by Turkish Health Minister Recep Akda─č and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to Bashiqa has stirred the pot even more and has troubled the Iraqi government. Iraq and Turkey have agreed that the Turkish military will withdraw from the Bashiqa camp when the Mosul offensive is complete, but until then, Baghdad wants the camp to immediately be turned over to Iraq control. Then there is Turkey’s ultimatum that Baghdad end any and all financial support to local groups in the Sinjar region which they state are affiliated with the PKK.


Whatever the case is, even if ISIL is defeated and removed from Mosul, there will remain a major issue to be settled between the leadership in Ankara and Baghdad.  Will it be settled peacefully with diplomacy or violently taking these two nations to the precipice of war is the query.

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