Turkey Pushing for Own ‘Popular Mobilization’ Militia in Iraq

Turkish soldiers prepare the area Turkish flag is raised on February 22, 2015 in the Esme region of Aleppo. Anadolu/Fırat Yurdakul.

Published Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Turkey is investing in the upcoming battle for the liberation of Mosul to expand its influence in Iraq. An increasing number of credible reports indicate this course of action, in the aftermath of the operation launched by the Iraqi government to retake Tikrit (the last major stronghold for Daesh before Mosul), with support from the Iranian Qods Force led by General Qassem Soleimani.

Regional powers are rushing to get a seat at the Iraqi roundtable, which makes sense given the significance of what is taking place in Mesopotamia and its implications on neighboring countries. Turkey, the most prominent among these powers, has indicated its desire to influence events in Iraq through Mosul in the north, a city within its strategic sphere.

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, who is visiting Baghdad and Erbil, recently acknowledged that Turkey is a member of the international coalition. “As such,” he explained, “Turkey has begun to actively contribute to the coalition. When the time comes, Turkey will make an assessment that takes into account our national interests and fulfills our responsibilities of coalition membership.”

In a press conference in parliament on Sunday, responding to the question whether the Turkish army would carry out direct ground operations in Iraqi territory, the minister said that Turkey was prepared to fulfill its role, if others fulfilled their commitments.

These statements were made days after Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi visited Ankara, where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan expressed his country’s concern over the events in Iraq, which he said, “require us to take joint steps and expedite joint action to support Iraq in its war against terrorism.” Erdogan stressed “We will work to help the Iraqi armed forces with training and equipment, an issue I shall discuss with the Turkish government and army.”

Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz’s statements came after Athil al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh, said that “Turkey has decided to join the military operation to retake Mosul.” In a statement carried by the Kurdish news agency Rudaw, published in the city of Erbil, he added, “Turkey will participate militarily and logistically to assist in the retaking of Mosul.”

Informed political sources believe the governor’s remarks are aimed at creating a “balance between Shia and Sunni forces” in the war on Daesh. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, the sources said, “Arab Sunnis are attempting to create a force similar to the Shia Popular Mobilization, one backed by Turkey and the Gulf states, to create a balance in the war on Daesh.”

The sources added, “Iran supports the Popular Mobilization forces, which have become a key part of the operations to retake territories from Daesh, but does not support Sunni militants fighting Daesh.”

The sources also said, “Turkey and the Gulf states are opposed to the participation of the Popular Mobilization in the liberation of Nineveh (the province that is home to the city of Mosul). For this reason, the Turkish role will be crucial here by arming Sunni fighters.” The sources added, “Turkish and Gulf support will come after the approval of the Iraqi government, and not just the local governments.”

On the other hand, member of the State of Law coalition Saad al-Matlabi rejected Turkish participation in the liberation of Nineveh, arguing that Turkey is “involved,” given what he described as its direct support for terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said,

“There have been attempts made by Turkey to participate in the fight against Daesh, most recently with [the proposal] of Turkish and Jordanian participation with 20,000 troops to retake Nineveh.”

However, Matlabi added,

“All Turkish plans are rejected by the government. The ideas proposed by the Turks are meant to deflect accusations regarding their direct involvement in supporting terrorism.”

Further, he said,

“Turkey is a source of the problems taking place in Iraq and Syria at present, so it is not logical for it to take part in liberating regions from terrorism.”

For his part, Ihsan al-Shammari, political science professor at the University of Baghdad, told Al-Akhbar,

“Turkey is trying to support its tools inside Iraq, and wants to be part of the victory against Daesh through its influence in the country.”

He explained,

“Ankara wants to send a message to Tehran to say that it still has sway in Iraq and has ties to a number of political parties, especially that Mosul was part of its backyard.”

He continued,

“Turkey will help support Sunni forces led by the governor of Nineveh Athil al-Nujaifi or his brother Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi.”

Shammari then pointed out that the Sunni force comprises 20,000 fighters from Mosul, and is part of an attempt to create “balance” on the battlefield.

At the same time, Shammari discounted the possibility of Turkey carrying out air strikes against Daesh fighters, and said Ankara would be content with supporting Nujaifi’s forces.

For his part, security expert Hisham al-Hashemi told Al-Akhbar

“Turkey will provide light and medium weaponry and equipment after the approval of the central government in Baghdad. These weapons will be exclusively sent to the Nineveh liberation task force present in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”

He added,

“The weapons Turkey will provide will be enough for a brigade or two brigades.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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