The U.S.-led operation to drive Islamic State (ISIS) from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, is on the brink of coming unraveled due to the growing rift between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish troops being on Iraqi soil without permission. The situation continues to grow more volatile with Turkey’s president inflaming the situation by making scathing remarks directed at the Iraqi prime minister over the Turkish occupation.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan remained firm that Turkey will take part in the Mosul offensive in order to prevent additional sectarian conflict on its borders; the battle for Mosul will be most critical for Iraq and its future and it will also require every available asset to win it. ISIS has had two years to dig in and build its defensive posture in Mosul and will use everything possible, including human shields, to thwart the offensive on the city to maintain control.
In a speech in Istanbul, President Erdogan said of the upcoming Mosul offensive:
“We will use all our resources to prevent our brothers in Syria and Iraq from being crushed under the wheels of global power games, and to keep us from suffering a similar fate. We are determined to deflate the balloon of sectarian conflict aimed at drowning the region in blood and fire.”
Turkish troops have been training Sunni Muslim and Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq for nearly a year now and their presence has continually ired the Iraqi government (in December 2015, Iraq requested the United Nations to intervene on their behalf to remove Turkish troops and requests made afterwards have yielded nothing).
The United States has not officially stepped in but instead urged both governments to resolve the disagreement swiftly due to it possibly have a negative effect on the U.S.-planned offensive on Mosul. The United States did maintain that Turkey and any other foreign forces should seek the approval of the Iraqi government before placing troops on its soil.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus had this to say,
“Turkey does not move on orders from others … Turkey’s presence in the Bashiqa camp will remain until Mosul is rid of Daesh. Whoever the Mosul population is, Arabs or Turkmen, they have lived together for centuries and will continue to do so. If you change the ethnic structure here, the people there will not allow it … This is our perspective as Turkey. Turkey’s force in the region cannot be questioned.”
After Turkey’s parliament voted to extend its deployment of Turkish troops across northern Iraq a few weeks ago, it was immediately met with condemnation from the Iraqi government with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issuing a warning that Turkey could trigger a regional war with this decision; Prime Minister al-Abadi promptly requested an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting as a result.
Erdogan, in turn, issued al-Abadi his own warning with his own scathing remarks that he should “know his place” and following it up with:
“You are not my interlocutor anyway. You are not on my level, you are not of my quality. You ranting and raving from Iraq is not of any importance to us.”
al-Abadi responded in kind on Twitter and referenced the attempted coup in Turkey and how Erdogan used the video chat service from his cell phone to address the nation:
“Yes, we sure are not your equal, because we liberate our land with men not via Skype.”
As the battle for Mosul looms in the coming month, it’s success will be measured on whether this conflict between the two countries can be resolved quickly; the retaking of Mosul from ISIS will deal Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a heavy blow and maybe now is not the time to fight over Turkey occupying Iraq – at least not until the battle for Mosul ends.