Turkey’s deployment of troops to the area near Mosul caused a stir in the region, complicating much further the multi-dimensional chess game that has been ongoing for some time.
Official reactions — particularly the one from Baghdad — offer a lot for deeper consideration as to what is really taking place as compared to what appears to happening.
In what appears to be a prelude to the funeral of the Sykes-Picot Agreement dating back a century ago, the sudden and dramatic moves are linked to each other. It’s a stage for interested parties and local players to position and reposition themselves as events unfold.
The bits and pieces of information coming from Ankara point to a position on Iraqi soil that may be long-lasting, aimed at having a stake in the chess game that so far has caused a series of instances of backlash for the AKP government. It is, arguably, in search mode for new partnerships to stay somewhat in control.
Taking back Mosul in full is on the top of the agenda. For this there is an apparent convergence of interests between Turkey, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Western allies. But beyond such a move, if they are successful in eliminating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) presence from the vicinity of the key Iraqi city, there are huge question marks looming.
The sudden deployment of Turkish troops has the “training local militia” argument behind it. And there seems to be little doubt, if any, that Baghdad, Arbil and Washington have known about the training dimension. So, it is far more important to look at the illusory current state of things rather than what is being “cooked” for the coming months.
According to new data, about 2,050 people have been trained so far at the Bashika military camp since its foundation seven months ago. Around half of them, with the addition of others trained at the Diana camp, took part in liberating Sinjar. At Bashika there are around 600 Turkish military staff and, according to sources in Ankara, it may be increased to up to 1,200 soldiers.
The key figure in the big picture is Khaled Hodja, leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), in close cooperation with KRG leader Masoud Barzani. It was he who declared that there would be a joint combat force built in the canton of Rojava.
A colonel, speaking anonymously to Tunca Öğreten with the Diken news site in İstanbul, confirmed the plans, adding that it was a formation initiated by the US and Turkey and that it would consist of around 5,000 men.
“As a matter of fact, this force could have been instrumental in taking back Jerablus, but it didn’t happen… These forces are supported by the US and Turkey, both against the [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad regime and to cut out the Kurds in northern Syria.”
Idris Nassan, the deputy foreign minister of Kobani, claims that this new force would consist mainly of members of the groups Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra, and Turkmens. Nassan connects the latest moves to an imminent meeting in Riyadh, where Saudis are organizing new alliance-building for the Syrian opposition forces.
“Behind the term ‘moderate forces’ are Saudi Arabia and Turkey,’ Nassan told the Diken website. “Their objective is to reduce the power of the secular Kurds from northern Syria.’
What the echoes of the Riyadh meeting will be, particularly around the inclusion of Ahrar el-Sham in the talks is a key point.
As Colum Lynch and John Hudson write in Foreign Policy:
“The US has previously expressed concerns about Ahrar al-Sham’s links to al-Nusra Front. But it has never designated the group as a terrorist organization, leaving the door open for possible cooperation in the future. Recently, Washington has been more willing to explore the possibility of a role for Ahrar al-Sham — as long as it backs international efforts to reach a political settlement with the Syrian government, according to diplomats tracking the process. A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to outline the American position on Ahrar al-Sham but said the United States was “mindful that we have more work to do in resolving this issue.”
Another key issue is whether or not the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) will be invited to Riyadh. Ankara appears to have put forward the condition the PYD leader Saleh Muslim or any other PYD member not be included at the meeting, and as Foreign Policy reported, based on US military sources, ”the Americans have had some tough discussions with the Turks on this. It hasn’t been pleasant.”
So, here we are.
And it is apparent that the picture will become more complicated before we see any clarity.