No Turkish involvement in Mosul operation so far

Bashiqa-Peshmerga-Mosul-2015-AFP.jpg

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters monitor the area from their front line position in Bashiqa, a town 13 kilometres north-east of Mosul. File photo

ARA News 

Bashiqa – Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Monday said that 3,000 Iraqi fighters, trained by Turkey, are taking part in the battle for Mosul. However, local sources on the ground said that the deputy PM was either mistaken or lying.

Turkey’s stretch of the frontline runs near the town of Bashiqa, where the Turkish Army maintains a base. It has remained quiet since yesterday when the battle for Mosul commenced.

Turkey is not expected to expose its soldiers to Islamic State (ISIS) small arms fire. Instead, it has been training and equipping a Sunni Arab contingent in Bashiqa. Local Peshmerga soldiers have welcomed the Turkish presence since the Turks also occasionally shell ISIS positions with heavy artillery.

The Kurdish Peshmerga often lack heavy artillery, unlike the Turkish and Iraqi armies. Military sources at the Mosul front told ARA News that the Iraqi Army is very well equipped, while the Peshmerga lack advanced armaments and munitions.

Turkey’s Sunni contingent has reportedly been kept out of the fighting due to their lack of cooperation with the US-led coalition. A Peshmerga officer at the front told ARA News that he hasn’t seen any movement from Turkey-trained fighters.

“In order to be involved in [the battle for] Mosul, ground forces have no choice but to align with the US-led coalition since the majority of territorial gains are dependent on the aerial support the coalition provides,” Ceng Sagnic, a researcher with the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told ARA News.

Sunni Nineveh Guards

The Sunni militiamen being trained in Bashiqa are members of the Nineveh Guards, formerly known as al-Hashd al-Watani. These fighters are loyal to the former governor of Mosul, Atheel Nujayfi.

The Iraqi government has opposed any form of Turkish intervention in Iraq and views Nujayfi’s militia as too closely aligned with Ankara. Turkish authorities have repeatedly said that the Iraqi government approved their training and assistance mission.

Nevertheless, the Kurdish Peshmerga are open to incorporating the Sunni militia into their operations. In that event, the Turkish-trained forces, which are now stationed near Bashiqa and the Mosul Dam, would most likely be deployed to the Nineveh Plains theater or in Mosul’s suburbs.

Either way, the Nineveh Guards would need to coordinate with Baghdad, which has replaced governor Nujayfi.

The Day After ISIS

The Iraqi government has taken a hard line against Turkey’s involvement in Mosul. Baghdad-backed Shia militias have threatened to attacks Turkey’s army and ‘proxies,’ if they advance.

“At least we can say, Turkey will stay in Bashiqa. In general, Ankara prepares itself in the region for the day after ISIS and is ready to take risks during this unique chance,” Ali Özkök, a Turkish Middle East Analyst told ARA News. “They perceive a real power vacuum in Baghdad.”

“Under those circumstances […] it looks really realistic that troops, at least Special Operations Forces, might be deployed to make sure that Nineveh Guards can play the role of a Turkey-protected hold-force in eastern Mosul,” Özkök continued.

Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute –Qatar, told ARA News that the deployment of the Nineveh Guards is tied up with several regional disputes and the perennial Kurdish question.

“I believe [that Turkey] doesn’t want to allow the Iraqi government [to gain] a foothold in Mosul that would force Ankara to seek Baghdad’s permission to operate out of there once this is over,” Stephens said. That foothold “would reduce Turkey’s ability to frustrate the Kurdistan Worker’s Party operating in the area.”

“It’s very much about not being left behind, and then being forced into a weak position from which to bargain for influence later down the road,” Stephen continued. “Mosul is viewed historically by Turkey as lying firmly within their sphere of influence. They will not surrender their position easily, but their options are limited at best.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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