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The Mess in the Middle East
Turkey Squares Off Against Russia, Iraq

Several hundred Turkish troops arrived in northern Iraq last Thursday, ostensibly to defend a Kurdish training camp near the outskirts of Mosul, a city held by the Islamic State. Analysts saw this move as a poke in the eye to Iran and Russia—a message that Ankara would not stand idly by as Tehran and Moscow had their way in Syria and Iraq. Iraq’s government said the move was an affront to its sovereignty, noting it never invited Turkish troops onto its soil, and called over the weekend for them to be withdrawn within 48 hours. Yesterday, Turkey said it would do no such thing:

Turkey has halted the deployment of troops to northern Iraq for now but will not withdraw those already there, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, after Baghdad demanded the withdrawal of soldiers sent to near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

In a phone conversation with his Iraqi counterpart late on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity, Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic told reporters.

Turkey says its latest deployment of soldiers to northern Iraq is part of a mission to train and equip Iraqi forces. The Iraqi government says it never invited such a force and will take its case to the United Nations if they are not pulled out.

Relatedly, Russia has asked the UNSC to hold closed-door discussions on Turkish military action in Syria and Iraq. That discussion is expected to take place today at 3PM EST, and will reportedly focus on Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian bomber two weeks ago. It will be a busy week for the Turkish diplomats at Turtle Bay.

So what’s going on here? Take a look at the ground covered in Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu’s speech to parliament yesterday, via Reuters:

Seperately, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he wanted to visit Baghdad as soon as possible to try to calm the row over the troop deployment.

Turkish troops were in Iraq to protect against a possible attack from Islamic State and those who interpreted their presence differently were involved in “deliberate provocation”, Davutoglu said in a speech to his party in parliament.

He also said Ankara had discussed possible measures against Russia at a cabinet meeting on Monday and will impose sanctions if needed, while remaining open to talks with Moscow.[..]

Davutoglu also slammed recent “insults and attacks” directed at Turkey from within Iran, warning that Turkish-Iranian friendship would suffer greatly if such attitudes continued. He did not specify to which comments he was referring.

The Turks are fuming at Moscow, which is working in Syria and Iraq with Tehran (the Iraqi government is in large degree a client of the latter). And Turkey is sending a message: Forget your “authority,” we’re taking matters into our own hands. Ankara’s good relationship with the Iraqi Kurds (the “good” Kurds, from a Turkish point of view—for now) should help with that, because it’s hard to see who will eject them from Iraqi Kurdistan. But they’re in a precarious international legal situation, which gives the Russians, Iranians, and Iraqis options. How far Ankara will take this latest move remains to be seen. Keep an eye on the U.N. this week, and on the ground in northern Iraq.

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  • Fat_Man

    The Turks are not friends of the US or of liberal democracy. They should be told to work things with Russia on their own.

  • gabrielsyme

    Wasn’t it just last week the Turks were claiming a 17-second incursion into their airspace a justification for shooting down a plane? They’ve obviously got a very principled and consistent respect for national sovereignty.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin isn’t putting in a call to al-Abadi right now, asking if he can’t be of some assistance in defending Iraq’s sovereignty.

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