-Islamic militants praying in the open plains of Mosul. Photo: albaraka.com
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Turkey has tolerated Islamic extremists crossing its border to join the fight in Syria, but with the same Islamists now raising havoc in Iraq Turkey may have to rethink its policy of aiding the militants, analysts and activists say.
Last week, Turkey felt the direct impact of the turmoil in Iraq, after its consulate in Mosul was taken over by insurgents and its diplomats captured, only to be freed a day later.
“Radical Islamic groups, with the knowledge of the Turkish intelligence service, recruit and send our young kids to the war in Syria from border bases in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces,” charged Atilla Yazar, head of the Urfa branch of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD).
“Now we hope that the Turks have realized how dangerous these groups are, and that they'll stop supporting the anti-Kurdish groups and engage in a dialogue with the Kurds in Syria.”
The insurgents – a dangerous league of Islamic militants and loyalists from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime and military – have seized large portions of Sunni territories, including Tikrit, Anbar and parts of Dyala province, halting only 100 kilometers from Baghdad.
Ankara has been accused of supporting the jihadists, which includes the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because they are fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
Turkey, whose decade-long policy has been to keep a tight lid on its own large minority Kurds, has also seen its interests served in ISIS clashes with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has unilaterally declared autonomy in Syria’s northwestern Kurdish regions.
"So far, militants from ISIS have been able to get treatment in hospitals in Turkey and hold meetings there. Turkey tried using ISIS against Assad and PYD,” explained Joost Jongerden, assistant professor at Wageningen University in Netherlands.
According to Daniella Kuzmanovic, lecturer at Copenhagen University and an expert on Turkey, Ankara’s cozy relations with the jihadis may come to an end now.
"The Turks are not interested that ISIS threatens Turkish interests, including Kirkuk with its Turkmen population and oil fields, or oil interests generally in Iraqi Kurdistan," she told Rudaw.
“The Turks have been playing with the jihadis so far, but it may well end now.”
Naser Khader, senior fellow at Hudson Institute in the United States and an expert on Syria, agreed: “After ISIS offensive in Iraq, the Turkish government now will consider seriously the border, because in the end it is going to harm the Turks themselves.”
Sune Haugbolle, lecturer at Copenhagen University and an expert on Syria, noted that Turkish support for the radical groups also gave the Turks themselves a bad name internationally.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected allegations of aiding militant groups in Syria.
Salih Muslim, the leader of the PYD which Turkey shuns for its ties with Turkey’s own outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has just offered Turkey a common front against ISIS.
"These groups represent a threat to Turkey. So let us together fight against them," Muslim said in an interview on Turkish television.
Experts say that, in the short run, the strained relationships between the PYD and Turkey may improve, as both see ISIS as a common enemy.
The same thing can be said of the history of strained relationships that the PYD and PKK have had with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil.
There are allegations that the PYD’s military wing has sent soldiers to Iraqi Kurdistan to assist the Peshmargas. The PKK has announced it will help the Iraqi Kurds against ISIS.
"The ISIS offensives brings the Kurds closer together, said Haugbolle, the Syria expert in Copenhagen. “But they still have unresolved conflicts regarding power sharing in Syrian Kurdistan and much more. This will not be solved just because they got a common enemy."