Iraq never authorized Turkey to deploy tanks and heavy weapons to its training camp in Bashiqa. AP file photo.
For a year now Ankara and Baghdad have been at loggerheads over the deployment of Turkish combat troops and heavy weapons to its training camp in the Bashiqa region, northwest of Mosul. However, there may be fertile grounds emerging for a compromise both countries can pursue to bring this potentially dangerous impasse to a conclusive end.
Hurriyet news recently reported that an offer was made by Baghdad earlier this month in which they sought to resolve the diplomatic crisis over Bashiqa by reconfirming Iraqi sovereignty over, and administration of, that camp. If that is done Baghdad would be willing to accept Turkey’s offer to provide military advisors and other assistance on good terms, Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, Dr. Hisham al-Alawi, said.
The offer followed a previous offer made by Ankara which suggested that Bashiqa should become another base for the coalition efforts against Mosul. Baghdad has rejected this and the coalition has not made Bashiqa part of the multitude of forces it is supporting in the current battle for Mosul. It could have done so by providing coordinates for the artillery guns Turkey has based at that camp, guns Iraq did not authorize it to deploy on its territory, and giving the Nineveh Guard (formerly known as Hashd al-Watani) paramilitaries Turkey has been training at Bashiqa a more direct role in the operation.
Over the course of the last year Turkey has defended its deployment of troops and heavy weapons to Bashiqa as a necessary protective measure against ISIS attacks. This justification is unlikely to hold much water after the threat from ISIS is neutralized through the collective efforts of the Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga and the coalition.
Of course the threat from ISIS in Mosul is not the only issue Turkey has in northern Iraq. In recent weeks Shingal and Tal Afar are places which have been preoccupying the minds of Turkish officials. Assuaging Turkish concerns about the situations in both these areas will likely prove to be a necessary perquisite to a withdrawal from Bashiqa.
In Shingal Turkey is angered by the continued presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has even gone so far as to threaten to intervene militarily against the group there to prevent it from establishing a “new Qandil” – a clear reference to the PKK’s long-term presence in Qandil Mountain.
Ambassador Alawi notably stressed this month that the Iraqi government did not give the PKK permission to set up base in Shingal and sees “no role for the PKK in the Nineveh or Mosul operation.”
While this does not indicate Baghdad will take any action against the PKK on Turkey’s behalf it has made clear that it – along with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – disapproves of a prolonged, or even permanent, PKK presence in that region. If nothing else, this shows Turkey that neither Baghdad nor Erbil would willingly tolerate the PKK establishing a permanent presence there.
Then there is Tal Afar, the Turkmen city which sits between Mosul and the Syrian border. At present the Shiite-majority paramilitary known as Hashd al-Shaabi are advancing toward the city, they have seized a key airport and are currently cutting off ISIS militants there by moving to encircle the city.
Turkey has warned the Hashd against entering Tal Afar and harming its Sunni Turkmen residents. It has sent armor to Silopi, its border region with Iraq, to reinforce its threat to intervene militarily against the Shiite paramilitaries.
Here again the Iraqis have taken steps to mitigate the possibility of a clash between the Hashd and the Turkish Armed Forces. They have done this by promising to take Tal Afar using the Iraqi military instead of the Shiite paramilitaries. Hashd will only secure the town’s perimeter in much the same way the Peshmerga has helped to secure the northern and eastern approaches to Mosul, but not enter the Sunni Arab-majority city itself.
If this goes according to plan then Turkey will have no reason to intervene in Tal Afar. This will also decrease the current tensions and create the necessary conditions which will enable Ankara to withdraw its forces from Bashiqa while still saving face.