Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan in check

While Turkey’s Erdogan is itching to have a role in the liberation of Mosul, entirely to serve his own imperial designs, not a single concerned power appears inclined to give him leave, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

It might have been a weekend for most people, but not for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who never rests in his selfless pursuit of the welfare of the whole of Anatolia and all Sunni peoples beyond its borders. His passion and zeal were visible as he spoke Saturday, in Bursa, the first major capital of the Ottoman Empire that Erdogan is so ardently campaigning to revive with all its great military glories.

There are times, however, when the sheer force of his ardour leads him into contradictions. Speaking at an educational institution in Bursa, Erdogan strenuously denied that his government had any problem recognising the sovereignty of neighbouring states and their existing political boundaries — regardless of how this pained his heart. He then added that his first concern was to protect “our brothers and our heritage”, in which regard he spoke of the precious Ottoman-era libraries and historical schools that were reduced to dust in Aleppo at the hands of the Alawi regime of Bashar Al-Assad. In view of his recent rapprochement with Putin, Erdogan made no mention of Moscow here, leaving it to the government controlled press to lash out at Russia. The same applied to Iraq and such cities as Kirkuk and Mosul. “Some ignorant people will ask what we have to do with Iraq. That geography we are speaking about is part of our soul,” he declared, gesturing in the direction of his ribcage.

The unstated point is that Erdogan and his AKP government want that piece of geography back, regardless of the cost. For 25 years, in the first half of the 20th century, Turkey received 10 per cent royalties on Mosul’s oil deposits in accordance with an agreement with Britain, the occupying power at the time. This was proof of Ankara’s title to it and, now, a new status for Mosul is the order of the day. Officials in Iraq, which shares a 350-kilometre-long border with Turkey, see things differently. Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi refuses to concede any rights to Turkey at all inside Iraq and he has some powerful backing from Iran. Tehran might have been able bring itself to look the other way when Turkish forces rolled into northern Syria and give its blessings to the so-called Euphrates Shield, the stated purpose of which was to fight Daesh. Also, Iranian officials may have little difficulty tacitly extending that blessing to Turkish attacks against the Kurds in northern Syria, since Tehran shares the Turkish inclination to stamp all Kurdish groups as terrorist PKK affiliates. But Syrian is one thing; Iraq is another. There, Iran will allow for no Turkish meddling and certainly not in Mosul. Accordingly, Iraqi officials performed a 180-degree about-face. After having, themselves, asked for Turkish assistance (or so the AKP narrative would have it), they now cry out against the occupation of Iraqi territory and the violation of their sovereignty. Following US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s recent visit, Al-Abadi reiterated the charges and insisted that there can be no place for Turkey in the battle to liberate Mosul.

Erdogan is nothing if not persistent. So in addition to the historical legacy card, he pulled out the sectarian one: Turkish Armed Forces need to be on hand to prevent possible human rights abuses by the Shia-based People’s Mobilisation Units (PMU), which might trigger a major demographic shift in predominantly Sunni Mosul. On top of this he adds the ethnic card, the need to defend the Turkmen against the potential dangers of violence and displacement at the hands of Shia or other militias. Erdogan is aware that certain parties want to keep Turkey out of Mosul and that if this happens, this city, which has suddenly become so vital and symbolic, will be lost to Turkey for good. Therefore, his ultranationalist ethnic and religious rhetoric is growing more and more strident and bellicose by the day while his propaganda machine blares the martial refrains needed to prime the Turkish public for the regional war that their president is courting.

As part of this campaign, the media launches daily broadsides against the US, which is behind the scenes of those schemes to keep Turkey out of Mosul. PM Benali Yildirim is aware of these. Speaking in Afyonkarahisar at a meeting of the ruling AKP party, he said that his country was ready to take steps in Iraq because Ankara was not convinced by Washington and Baghdad’s pledges that PKK fighters and Shia militias would not take part in current combat activities. Ankara will not stand by with its hands tied with regard to the situation in Mosul, he vowed.

As though the situation surrounding Turkish involvement in Mosul was not thorny enough as is, there is another complicating factor: Turkey’s nagging fears of Iraqi Kurdistan. While the president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is currently a great friend, memories of “stabs in the back” in the annals of the history of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah are still fresh — or, more accurately, have been freshened. Massoud Barzani supported the presence of Turkish forces in the Duberdan and Bashiqa camps near Mosul in order to train the police and volunteer forces from Nineveh province. But the Kurdish Peshmerga, which contributed to the successes in Kobane and Jerablus, is a chief component in the coalition arrayed against Daesh in Mosul today. A victory over Daesh will give Iraqi Kurdistan a major say in regional arrangements, not to mention a share in the pie of Mosul as well as oil-rich Kirkuk, which Erdogan’s Ankara would see as coming at its own expense. On top of this, a victory of the Kurdish Peshmerga would give at the least a powerful moral boost to Kurds in Turkey in general, and the Kurds in beleaguered southeast Anatolia in particular.

On the whole, the signs are that Turkey might be sidelined from the equations that will shape the Fertile Crescent and that its leaders’ fiery tirades will be of little use, even in the so-called “safe zones” inside the territories of Turkey’s neighbours. At the same time, developments to the south and southeast can not be seen in isolation from Erdogan’s relentless authoritarian drive at home and his unmasked grievance with the US and Europe for not showing enough sympathy and support for Turkey in the wake of the 15 July coup attempt.

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