Friday, June 13, 2014

Some thoughts on the US, Turkey, and the Fall of Mosul

Three days ago, we awoke to a new reality. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, placed way in its north, not far from the Turkish border, and sandwiched between Kurdish Northern Iraq and Syria, fell to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) rebel forces, which plowed over the Syrian-Iraqi border. The day after this, in a bold move, ISIS also took over the Turkish consulate building in Mosul, holding the Turkish staff hostage, in addition to other Turkish workers.

ISIS Forces erase the Iraqi-Syrian border
There is no doubt that what we are seeing is first and foremost is related to the continued lack of US leadership concerning a clear policy in the Middle East. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq started the break-up of Iraq; in place of unifying the different Sunni and Shia factions, US policies led to a polarized division. Parallel to this, the US opted to root out any Baathist found near and far, completely destroying Iraq’s political infrastructure. Iraq was to be recreated anew. This is the outcome.

The current situation however is just as much related to a US failed policy in Syria. Over three years ago, a popular uprising against the cruel regime of Bashar al-Assad erupted. Unable to convince Russia and China of the need to oust Assad, the US, and its allies (Turkey and the Gulf States) opted to play out a war of attrition by arming opposition forces. However, despite the good will of many fighting for a democratic Syria, radical Islamic groups took hold wreaking havoc. Like most civil wars, the Syrian quagmire has left the country in shambles with millions of refugees.  

For the Turkish AKP-ruled government the current crisis is led many in Turkey to question the wisdom of its policy. Just a few months after the breakout of the peaceful Syrian revolution, Erdogan correctly cut his ties with the Assad regime once it was clear the Syrian president refused to take any steps at democratizing his country. Further, as attacks against civilian populations increased, the Turkish government undertook a major humanitarian operation, accepting a huge influx of refugees, which stands at about 800,000 people today. However, despite its correct policy concerning the humanitarian action, something went wrong.

During the last two years, numerous reports have emerged that Turkey has been assisting some of the radical groups, such as Jabha al-Nusra, and even ISIS; the assistance ranged from supplying ammunition, providing entrance to foreign fighters, free-movement, and medical help, seemingly with the grace of Uncle Sam. In fact, just last winter, the government tried to silence any debate concerning Turkish trucks making ammunition deliveries to Syrian opposition forces.   

For Turkey, the unfolding events in Mosul, and the capturing of the consulate and kidnapping of its workers, marks a major miscalculation by the Turkish government. So much so that less than 24 hours before the consulate workers were taken hostage, Turkey’s FM Davutoglu assured all that the correct measures were taken to protect them. In other words, Turkey’s government was completely taken by surprise the fall of Mosul, an intelligence failure at the highest level, especially since it is only about sixty miles from the Turkish border.

As negotiations are underway to release the Turkish citizens held in Iraq, what is being mostly discussed in Turkey is whether arms that were shipped from Ankara are now being used against its own citizens. The opposition in Turkey has numerous times challenged the consensus of arming radical groups and the lack of transparency related to Turkish policy in Syria. In short, it is becoming clear that different than the United States, for Turkey, the fall of Mosul, together with ISIS’s defacto control of three border posts between Syria and Turkey, has long turned into a domestic issue with far-reaching repercussions.

Yes, for Turkey, the recent events show how ill-prepared its government was in understanding developments occurring right on its doorstep. For many, however, the fear is that if the situation continues to deteriorate the violence of the radical ISIS could spill over into its own borders, or drag Turkish soldiers into the mess. 

Therefore, even if this is of major concern for the United States, for Turkey, it really hits at home.  

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