Turkish tanks at the Turkey-Iraq border. Photo: Burhan Ozbilici/AP
Turkey is adamant that it will play a role in the liberation of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) militants as tensions with Iraq over its deployment of troops in Bashiqa intensify. But Turkey is likely looking to play a longer-term political role in the region than becoming deeply involved in the military operation, analysts say.
"We will play a role in the Mosul operation and no one can prevent us from participating," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed earlier this month, amid widespread anticipation that the Mosul operation is about to begin.
The Turkish base in the town of Bashiqa in northern Iraq near Mosul is first and foremost a military training camp for the former Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi's Sunni Hashd al-Watani militia. Nujaifi told Rudaw that the Turkish troops will only play a supporting role in the Mosul operation and, "if there is a need, they will offer support to Peshmerga, Hashd al-Watani and even the Iraqi Army."
"We will need Turkey soon, particularly for evacuation and aid operations. And I expect there will be collaboration from all the countries on this," he added.
Turkey recently began treating at least 62 Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers who have been wounded fighting ISIS.
Nujaifi believes the current tensions between Ankara and Baghdad will be solved soon through "political and diplomatic means."
Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, previously told Rudaw English that he doubts Turkey will play much of a direct role in the operation given the small size of their contingent in Bashiqa. Instead, Knights envisions Turkey playing, at best, a supporting role to the Hashd al-Watani.
"The deployment in Bashiqa is a mid-sized training mission," he explained. "The artillery and tanks are really there for self-protection. But they might fire in support of Nujaifi's forces advancing on Mosul."
Aaron Stein, a Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center, also doubts that Turkey will play any direct military role in the operation and doubts that the Hashd al-Watani will take part in the battle for Mosul.
"If and when the coalition does take the city, it is unclear if Turkey or the Hashd al-Watani will help to ‘hold’ the city," Stein told Rudaw English. "The Nujaifi-Baghdad relationship, and therefore the Turkey-Baghdad relationship, remains difficult and it is hard to foresee a scenario whereby Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will openly welcome a Nujaifi/Turkish role."
Turkey wants to play a role in shaping the future of Mosul and the wider Nineveh region. Erdogan's recent remarks, Stein said, indicate he wants local Arabs, such as Nujaifi's militia, to liberate Mosul, which is "a reference to his government's discomfort with the [Shiite] Hashd al-Shaabi, and any role they may or may not play in the Mosul campaign."
"The Turkish government has made similar comments about Turkmen in Tel Afar, a reference to the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party]/YPG [Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units] in Shingal," Stein added. "There is a possibility that the Hashd al-Watani will try to play a role in post-ISIS Mosul, or that Turkey will try and funnel money through Sunni Iraqi Turkmens in Tel Afar – something that Ankara was already doing before the rise of Islamic State."
"As of now, it doesn’t look like Turkey will have a direct role in the Mosul fight, but Turkey will remain a serious outside player in the city regardless," he concluded.
Joel Wing, an Iraq analyst and author of the Musings on Iraq blog, believes that possible Hashd al-Watani participation in the Mosul battle "will be for political reasons only."
"They are a small force and would have no real impact on the actual battle," Wing told Rudaw English. "I'm not sure what Turkey will do."
"The recent complaints from Baghdad about their presence may be enough to stop Ankara from doing much other than supporting Nujaifi, but you can't tell in the end," he added. "Mosul is as much a political conflict as a military one and every force in Iraq wants a piece of the pie to claim that they helped defeat the Islamic State. Just as importantly, they want to make claims to Mosul and Nineveh as well."