So much for Iraq’s liberation! Freedom from the dictator, whose country served as a buffer against Iranian expansion, delivered sectarianism and oppression, which, in turn, attracted terrorists like moths to a flame. And now it seems Turkey wants in on the action.
Today Iraq is under Iranian influence, but at least it did not succumb to the neoconservative plan to officially split the country into three, easily-controllable, bite-sized (Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish) territories. That is until now when it looks like the plan hasn’t been binned after all. RT quoted Awatif Nima, an Iraqi lawmaker, saying this in response to the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq: “Joe Biden offered the last Iraqi government to divide Iraq, but the government categorically refused. Today a similar type of offer was presented to our government from Turkey. But the government did not accept and refused to coordinate action with Turkey’s government.”
Ostensibly, Turkish troops are there to assist Kurdish forces fighting Daesh, but Iraqi lawmakers say they were shown footage of Turkish soldiers “standing in close proximity to Daesh fighters” without taking any action against them. As of yesterday, Ankara said it had taken necessary steps for a ‘new arrangement’ of troops near Mosul, but insisted its presence would continue for military training.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has bristled at similar accusations relative to Daesh in Syria and has dared Moscow to prove that Ankara has been in engaged in buying the group’s stolen oil to be sold on. Whatever the reasons Erdogan has chosen to cooperate with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani — even as the Turkish Air Force is bombing Kurdish PKK forces battling Daesh in Syria and Iraq — without the consent of Iraq’s central government, the presence of Turkish soldiers on Iraqi soil amounts to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
“We demand the UN Security Council takes responsibility... to order Turkey to immediately withdraw its troops,” read a statement issued by Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s office. Erdogan hit back with the words, “They can resort to the UN Security Council, that is their natural right, but this is not an honest step...”
The Turkish President is clearly empowered by US President Barack Obama’s administration, which is sitting on the sidelines merely advising all sides to de-escalate the row. As Turkey is a close ally of Washington and a member of Nato, it’s more than likely any condemnatory Security Council resolution will be vetoed by the US. Why Barzani isn’t echoing Al Abadi’s call (he says he intends to remain neutral) when his Kurdish brethren are being slaughtered by his ‘guests’ seems mystifying on the surface but one plausible explanation was provided by the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins: “The Iraqi Kurds can’t say no to the Turks. The thing that all Kurdish hopes of independence rest on is the oil pipeline that sends Kurdish oil to the Mediterranean every day. It runs through Turkey and Erdogan could turn it off at any moment if he wanted to.”
Earlier this month, Hurriyet reported that Turkey intends to build “a permanent military base” in oil-rich Mosul, a deal allegedly signed by Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Fereidun Cavusoglu in November. Russia has disseminated satellite images showing work underway.
Ironically, Erdogan was quick to give the green light to the shooting down of a Russian plane that allegedly entered Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, whereas he is saying a firm ‘no’ to Iraq’s demands that all Turkish troops leave forthwith. But just as there’s no honour among thieves, it has no place in the world of geopolitical rivalry.
However, unless territorial rights are upheld it will set a precedent for parts of the world to become a free-for-all. There’ll be nothing to prevent Al Abadi from sending out invitations to Russia and/or Iran to enter the fray in force to curtail Turkish aggression. He’s already toying with the idea of asking for Moscow’s help to defeat Daesh, which hasn’t gone down well with the White House.
Iran has condemned the Turkish presence as a threat to the region while Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, are threatening to carry out operations against Turkish soldiers and Turkish interests in Iraq, which is probably why Ankara has advised its citizens to leave the country.
Moreover, if the US eschews the principles of international sovereignty to suit its allies, it will no longer have any moral or legal platform to condemn Russia’s interference in Ukraine or anywhere else. And lest we forget, this mess was created by the US invasion of Iraq, specifically its gross mishandling of the day after. The US promised Iraqis democracy. The democratically-elected government wants Turkish troops gone.
For that reason alone, under the provisions of the UN Charter and international law, Obama is duty-bound to support its call. Although in our increasingly dog-eat-dog world, I won’t hold my breath.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.