In Multipolarity, Turkey / Türkiye

News Cold, Dec 7, 2015

Two articles are enclosed, from Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkey pulls 350 troops from Iraq border after tension with Baghdad

By Sevil Erkuş, Hurriyet Daily News, Dec 7, 2015

Turkish tank on border with Syria (Reuters)

Turkish tank on border with Syria (Reuters)

ANKARA–Turkey has pulled 350 troops back from the Turkish-Iraqi border after reaction from Baghdad over the deployment of more Turkish soldiers in Mosul. The troops were waiting on the border and will be sent to Iraq if Ankara and Baghdad agreed on the issue, sources told Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey has deployed nearly 600 troops to train Iraqi Sunni local guards in Mosul.

The United States has reiterated its opposition to the deployment of any military forces inside Iraq without consent from the Iraqi government. “The U.S. does not support military deployments inside Iraq [without] the consent of the Iraqi government. This includes the deployment of U.S. military personnel, as well as military personnel from any other country,” U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Brett McGurk, said late Dec. 6.

During the same hours late on Dec. 6, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu sent a letter to his Iraqi counterpart, informing him that his country would halt further transfers of troops to an area near Mosul, which is controlled by ISIL, after Baghdad threatened to appeal to the United Nations to force Turkey to withdraw its soldiers.

In his Dec. 6 letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Davutoğlu stopped short of agreeing to al-Abadi’s demand to withdraw the currently deployed soldiers, although the senior U.S. official welcomed the “reported” withdrawal of Turkish forces.

In the “last 24 hours, we have actively encouraged Turkish and Iraqi authorities to discuss the current situation through appropriate channels. The recent phone call between the Turkish and Iraqi defense ministers was a positive and constructive step forward,” McGurk said.

“We are encouraged by reports that Turkish military forces have pulled back from the Iraqi border as diplomatic engagements proceed,” he said, adding that Washington was continuing to encourage all parties to bring the issue to a diplomatic resolution as allies in the battle against ISIL.

A much-anticipated counter-offensive by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul from ISIL has been repeatedly postponed because they are tied down in fighting elsewhere.

Iraq has urged the international community to provide more weapons and training in its battle against the militants, but rejects most forms of direct intervention, mistrusting the intentions of foreign powers.

A small number of Turkish trainers were already at the camp near Mosul before the latest deployment on Dec. 3 [see second article further below] in order to train the Hashid Watani (national mobilization), a force made up of mainly former Iraqi police or Sunni Arab origin and volunteers from Mosul.

The U.S. was aware of the deployment but the move is not part of the U.S.-led coalition’s activities, according to defense officials in Washington.

U.S. officials made several statements last week on plans to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, prompting Iraqi politicians and militias to protest against the presence of any foreign troops in Iraq without explicit permission from parliament.

Powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim armed groups have pledged to fight a planned deployment of U.S. forces to the country.

NATO member Turkey has been bombing positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. It is also part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIL.

Turkish base in Iraq targets Mosul’s liberation from ISIL

By Murat Yetkin, Hürriyet Daily News, Dec 6, 2015 (full text)

The Turkish military training base near the Bashiqa district of Mosul, north of Iraq, was first established with the final aim of liberating Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). A total of 2,044 people, half of them Iraqi Kurdish fighters, have been trained there since March 2015, according to ranking official Turkish sources.

The base came to international attention over the weekend due to the recent reinforcement there. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Turkish official sources claimed to the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 6 that all the activity carried out at the base was in cooperation with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish officials and with the full knowledge of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition.

The sources said reinforcement operation to increase the number of Turkish troops at the base was planned before Turkey’s Nov. 24 downing of a Russian jet as it crossed the Syrian border, but it “might have been accelerated after the incident considering rising risks.” One described those risks as the “threat from ISIL after recently losing Sinjar to Peshmerga forces and the potential renewed threat from the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK agitated by Russia or Iran.”

The reinforcement of Turkish Special Forces trainers by commando troops up to a total of 600, and the deployment of a number of tanks, was carried out last week to “provide better protection for the camp, not to change the training facility nature of it,” said one source. They also stated that the number of tanks sent to the base was not as high as 25, as has been widely reported. Instead, most of the tanks are on hold in Turkey by the Iraqi border.

Turkish sources say the reinforcement plans were discussed in detail with Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s counter-ISIL fight coordinator, during his latest visit to Ankara on Nov. 5-6. “The Americans are telling the truth,” one high-rank source said. “This is not a U.S.-led coalition operation, but we are informing them about every single detail. This is not a secret operation.”

The camp was recently visited by Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi on Nov. 27, and he said at the time that the “operation to liberate Mosul” would “begin soon.” Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz had a telephone conversation with Obeidi on Dec. 5 regarding media reports about the base, stressing that nothing was going on beyond anti-terrorism training activities. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also said in a public speech on the same day that Turkey respected Iraq’s territorial integrity, amid Iraqi President Fuad Masum’s reaction that Ankara should immediately end its violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Turkish sources say the training base near Mosul became operative in March 2015, following a meeting in Badhdad on Dec. 20, 2014 between Davutoğlu and Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi. “The original proposal was made by Atheel al-Nujaifi,” one source elaborated, referring to the former governor of Mosul before the city was captured by ISIL on June 11, 2014. “The entire process was carried out with the inclusion of Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] in Arbil, since the area is under their control and local forces are organized by al-Nujaifi and his office.”

When ISIL captured the city in June 2014, the Turkish Consulate General was stormed and 49 people, including Consul General Öztürk Yilmaz, were taken hostage. They were able to be taken back on Sept. 20, 2014 thanks to contacts between the National Intelligence Organization (M?T) and Sunni Arab tribes in the region.

Turkish military trainers are also supervising a KRG training camp near Diana. KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee said via his Twitter account that “Turkey has already trained Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces. The presence of further Turkish troops aims to expand this training program.”

“The 1,000 Peshmerga who were trained by Turkish officers were very successful in liberating Sinjar from ISIL on Nov. 12,” anther Turkish source said, expressing hope that Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces who are organized under the group “Hashti Vatani” in the Bashiqa camp will also be effective in the offensive to “liberate Mosul.” Some Turkoman, Christian and Yazidi fighters are also getting military training under the supervision of Turkish troops, sources confirm.

There is also a PKK dimension to the Turkish reinforcement, as well as the fight against ISIL. The military presence of the PKK in northern Iraq is considered a major threat for Turkey and a matter of political rivalry for the KRG. The PKK and the militia of its Syrian extension, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have been fighting against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but they have been trying to benefit from the situation for their own political agenda to establish a Kurdish state under its control in the region. Ankara thinks the situation after the downing of the Russian plane could end up leading to a fertile environment for manipulation of the PKK against Turkish anti-ISIL training camps in Iraq by pro-Russian of pro-Iranian agitators. Those are the two countries that are also main international supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

Read also:
Turkey says has duty to protect its soldiers carrying out training in Iraq, Today’s Zaman, Dec 7, 2015

Erdoğan was only partly briefed about peace process with Kurds, claims HDP party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, Hürriyet Daily News, Dec 7, 2015

… Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in İmralı Island prison, played a central role in the government-led peace process aimed at ending the three-decade long conflict between Turkey’s security forces and PKK militants since at least late 2012. Öcalan had been in dialogue with state officials, the HDP, and its predecessor the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Violence between Turkish security forces and PKK militants reignited this summer after a suicide bombing attack against socialist activists in the border town of Suruç killed 34 people, shattering the fragile peace process after a two-and-a-half-year de facto period of non-conflict. The bombing was blamed on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but the PKK and many in the Turkish opposition blamed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for creating the conditions that could facilitate the attack.

[Full background on multiple bomb massacres of left-wing gatherings in Turkey in 2015 is here on New Cold]


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